Link Letter from Simon Challand in Uganda
South Rwenzori Diocese
"The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain"
It may do in Spain but it doesnt in Uganda. Kasese Town (where I work) is situated at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains and at the western edge of the Great Rift Valley, a "plain" extending more than 3,000 miles from Syria to Mozambique. It is generally hot and dry despite being 3,000 feet above sea level. Kilembe (where I live) however, is only 5 miles away but due to its location 1,500 feet higher it has a totally different climate. The rains come in March and August but only briefly to Kasese: as I write it is still raining in Kilembe. This is not "English rain", the cold, wet drizzle that seems to penetrate all your layers of warm clothing but a tropical downpour that comes very regularly at around 6pm. The skies fill with forbidding, black clouds, thunder clashes around the hillsides, and then a wind blows down the valley for about five minutes, scattering papers around my house as it rushes through the glassless windows. As it stops the rains begin, hammering down on the tin roof for an hour or more and often ending as quickly as they came. You can tell when the rainy season has arrived here because both the carrots and the pot holes get twice as big.
"Wake me up before you go, go..."
Two of Kagando Hospitals best doctors and two of my best friends, George and Michael (sounds like they might be a duo on "Top of the Pops") have left to do further studies in Zimbabwe. George Akol is studying General Medicine and Michael Tindikahwa is studying Paediatrics. They will be away for four years but under the terms of their sponsorship will come back to Kagando for a further five. Francis, the medical superintendent, is leaving in April which leaves Kagando without any senior doctors. Anyone out there tired of the NHS and looking for a challenge ?
" cos I aint planning on going solo".
All Quiet on the Western Front
The war in Congo seems to be in stalemate at the moment, both militarily and at the negotiating table. The effect of this is that Uganda has effectively pushed its western border 500 miles into Congo so cutting off supplies to the ADF rebels who have been terrorising Kasese for the last two years. This has greatly reduced, but not completely stopped the attacks on villagers. The International Red Cross are still bringing food to an estimated 20,000 people displaced from their homes in the mountains. Still no news of Florence or Ndrahangas brothers abducted by the rebels last year. However I have been able to visit Florences family and assure them that she is not forgotten and that Florence and the family are upheld in prayer by the Christians in England.
Despite complaining in my last letter about the lack of malaria and its impact on the income of our dispensaries I am still getting it on a fairly regular basis. I think I am just recovering from attack number eight but since one of its main effects on me is to fuddle my brain, it could be number eighteen or eighty. Am I complaining? Of course not! True to form my upper lip is as stiff as a board despite the continuing absence of the supporting moustache. I wonder whether my vocation is not to eliminate malaria with the miracle Neem trees but merely to suffer it on behalf of everyone else?
Eat Your Heart Out, Frank Dobson
I try to keep abreast of events back home by reading. The Guardian Weekly keeps me up to date with the fortunes or otherwise of Newcastle United; Private Eye, a must for anyone working in the worlds thirteenth most corrupt country, is a constant reminder that Britain is not without blemish; and the British Medical Journal, affectionately known as the BMJ to anyone sad enough to have any affection for pages of obscure research and statistics, but the obituaries page reminds me that Im not dead yet! Being so well informed means that I know all about the trials and tribulations of the dear old National Health Service, affectionately known as the NHS to anyone sad enough... etc. etc. Waiting lists, winter bed crises, Viagra, its a hard life if you are struggling with all that but out here I realise that many of the problems we face in trying to provide affordable, accessible health care are the same, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.
After over a year of applying a policy that the frugal Gordon Brown would be proud of, maximising the benefits from the resources available, we seem to have discovered the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Back in the 50s and 60s Kasese was home to one of Ugandas biggest exports, copper. Kilembe where I live is the old mine town, now a shadow of its former glory although the chair lift which took the miners up to the workings, the railway and the 50m swimming pool are all still visible, but silent. One of the by-products of copper extraction was cobalt and the ore was piped down the hill to Kasese Town where it has sat, minding its own business, for the last twenty years. Cobalt is used for, among other things, quick drying paint and aircraft engines and most of the world reserves lie in Congo.
Now those of you who have been paying attention will have deduced that Congo is not a good place to go looking for cobalt right now, which means the little blue slag heap here could be worth up to a billion dollars! Step in KCCL, the Kasese Cobalt Company Limited, a multinational outfit who have spent the last year building an extraction plant which separates out the cobalt using, wait for it, bacteria. They hope to start production very soon and will continue for ten years using 250 local workers. This is all very good for the local economy, but especially good news for St Pauls Health Centre. Although KCCL is a business and the bottom line is profits, shareholders and banks they are not entirely without heart. In their goodness they have decided to pay for the health care of their workers and families and after much protracted negotiating, fevered budgeting, and a game of snooker in which I partnered the General Manager, St Pauls has won the contract. This means that we will provide diagnosis and treatment, immunisations, family planning, AIDS counselling and any thing else we can think of to around 1,500 people, and KCCL will foot the bill for the next ten years; and as a start they have given us 3,000 to renovate the place. I am sure there is a lesson there for hospital managers back home.
We won the snooker as well!
Thank you to everyone who sent me Christmas cards and goodies. It was a suitably ascetic Christmas for this mission partner who found himself cast away on an island in the middle of Lake Victoria with nothing to do but eat, drink, swim and be merry with a bunch of mad Brits and Canadians. I had a couple of visitors for the festive season - Sharon, doing mission work in Gulu, a war torn area in Northern Uganda and Kully, a friend from London. We all came back to Kasese for New Year and spent time out in a village with my friend Ezera and his family, went swimming in a crater lake, found ourselves surrounded by elephants in the Park and danced under the stars into 1999.
To Remember in Prayer:
Love, joy and peace
For a long time my prayer for myself has been that I might be filled with an abundance of the Love of God, the Joy of God and the Peace of God. I believe that I am now experiencing the answer to that prayer. May the risen Christ fill you with his love in the coming year.
As I was sending this letter the Diocese was affected by a tragedy. Rev Ivan Rusenge, the Diocesan Secretary (the clerical equivalent of the general manager), was killed in a car accident near Kasese. He was a young and able man who always treated me with warmth and guided me with wisdom. He leaves a wife and young family and will be much missed by them and the whole of South Rwenzori Diocese.