Emergency Relief for Rwanguba

24 May

Today we are launching a three week campaign to help the Rwanguba station coordinate relief for refugees who've just arrived in the area. 

All donations received by the CAMP Fund between 5/24/12 and 6/14/12 will be applied directly to relief efforts in Rwanguba, and go toward efforts to support the health and well being of those who are most vulnerable, concentrating on the services that Rwanguba hospital and medical personnel can provide.  

Immediately we will be sending $3000 from the CAMP fund coffers to help meet the most critical needs. We hope you will join us in efforts to partner with the local people and professionals who want to be the good neighbors and caretakers of these new arrivals, and who are struggling to coordinate efforts to reduce the spread of disease and provide some measure of security and sustenance for everyone--all this under threat of the possible need for evacuation and dwindling resources.  As our friend Cindy Salseth reported just a handful of days ago about her own efforts:

There has been fighting around the Rutshuru and Bunangana areas this past week. We got a lorry of food into Rwanguba on Friday just in time before they started fighting near the Catholic mission at Jomba on Saturday. Now they are turning all the people either to Rwanguba or Rubari. People are hungry--the gardens are not ready. Usually food is coming from Masisi but there was fighting there a couple of weeks ago...  We are so thankful that we were able to get food to over 400 people. My brother and I are working on trying to get food to the 11 churches in Rubare area and hope to accomplish that in the next few days. The people told me they had no words to express their gratitude and could not believe we remembered them and are praying for them. They felt like they had been on their own. Some had given up hope and were eating their goats or selling them. One pastor who met me at the border just hugged me and broke into sobs. He was so relieved that there were people expressing concern for them.

So far no NGOs have come to the aid of the displaced people in the area--partly because it remains so insecure.  That leaves it up to people who are personally invested and this is where our organized efforts can shine.  Like Cindy, we have good connections with the local professionals who are best poised to help those at greatest risk.  Local professionals do not evacuate unless everyone evacuates--which is a distinct advantage over international aid organizations, whose mandates are restricted. 

Reports by friends have been delivered to us with a note of alarm, as many refugees face the possibility of starvation.  Food resources are low and the hospital is now completely depleted of medication.  As usual, an outbreak in the makeshift camp is immanent, if clean water, proper sanitation, and basic medication cannot be provided.  We are not certain yet precisely where our funding will be directed, but we are in discussion with people on the ground as to where it can make the biggest difference.  Rest assured that our support will be directed wherever we determine actions and provisions can prevent the most casualties.

Please watch our blog, facebook page, and twitter for updates as the situation unfolds, and please give through the PayaPal link on the right, which goes into the FCMC Foundation's CAMP Fund account, or by contacting the foundation Director, Robert Roush at the FCMC Foundation (717-485-6842, rroush@fcmcpa.org).   

Even the cost of a latte can help us save lives.  100% of the amount you give will go to those in need.

For more information about the Rwanguba hospital and its work, see below.


The medical profession can be, even under the best circumstances, more than a tad unpredictable.  A big part of its business is to meet disaster whenever it arrives into people’s lives unannounced and do its level best to shepherd dark clouds of pain, injury, and illness out of the host’s doorway.  A job that is daunting to accomplish under the best of circumstances becomes, under the worst, a source of paralysis and grief.  Right now we understand that the Rwanguba hospital (pictured ab0ve) may be feeling this way, as the facility’s functionality grinds to a halt with an influx of war refugees.  Under routine circumstances, the hospital’s resources and staff are already regularly stretched and overtaxed.  The only emergency care provider for a wide radius, the hospital serves not only those in the immediate vicinity, but people from remote areas desperate for assistance after exhausting all other options.  Folks from outlying areas often reach Rwanguba in a condition far advanced beyond easily-manageable stages, making effective treatment difficult.  Pictured below is one of the more well-constructed “ambulances” people use to reach the facility—showing that most make the trip in a laborious, sweaty, manpower fashion.  Usually people who fall ill delay traveling to see if the issue passes, because the trek itself to reach the hospital is harrowing and expensive--taxing on the injured, those left behind with a larger workload, and those who would transport the patient.  That waiting period has a cost, compromising treatability.  Even when things are not in crisis mode, then, Rwanguba hospital serves as a last resort for many.   Accordingly, the people who work there are a tough, whipsmart, resourceful group of professionals who have a lot of practice in making the best of a bad situation.

I have witnessed the capacity of this hospital’s staff to meet emergencies with innovation and aplomb and have also gotten a front row seat to more sobering moments of helplessness for lack of resources.  On the successful but unusual side of preventive medicine.  I’ll never forget the day a man came into the hospital to announce to my father that a rogue hippo was blundering around down by the nursing school and needed to be put down for the sake of everyone’s safety.  I knew that a hippo was no idle threat, because I had been with my father to a nearby fishing village some years prior; there he introduced me to a man whose one leg had once been snapped off the day he went to gather water in the river and accidentally walked between a mother and her calf who were separated by quite a distance on the shore.  That man had been brought to Rwanguba for treatment where a team of medical personnel, including my father, had managed to perform an amputation and save his life, as he nearly died from blood loss and, then, infection. 

Given their everyday dispositions, hippos cause more death and injury than any other animal in Africa; to make matters worse, the one down by the nursing school was raving that day, having been caught briefly in a hunter’s trap.  It was injured.  And it was in the mood to do some vengeful damage.  My father got permission from the proper authorities to "hunt" the stray hippo and left his hospital responsibilities long enough to kill the animal and help people distribute the meat.  When he was finished, my dad resumed his anesthesia work.  He and the people who brought this issue to his attention understood that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; as a result, no one was hurt by the hippo that day.  So much for routine at the hospital.  So much for sticking within one’s job description.  For anyone dedicated to both prevention and cure in a place like Rwanguba, one thing is for certain: if you want to help, it's vital to listen to local people whose judgment you trust, as they intimately understand the acute dangers and see clear opportunities to prevent more trouble.  These people--professionals and friends of ours who know when a situation is serious--are now signaling from Rwanguba telling us that they need our help.  Though we have been plugging away lately to raise money for a higher education project, we now feel compelled to give some of these earnings to immediate needs, as the cry has gone up for relief.

During the time we spent in Rwanguba (the eighties), no displaced populations were fleeing from war as they are today.  The only taste of collective disaster we had in those days came when giant lorries, piled high with goods and traveling on rough, uneven roads, tipped over.  Almost without fail, the thirty to fifty people traveling on top would be injured and some killed.  When the survivors arrived at Rwanguba hospital for treatment I vaguely remember sensing immense stress and rapid-fire decision-making as my dad helped organize a triage to determine the varying degrees of need for critical attention in the group.  I try to imagine this on an exploded scale.  When several thousand people show up with nowhere else to go, many injuried and famished, with no outside help in sight, how does one triage such a group?  Disaster is rarely a respecter of schedule or capacity, and more than good coordination will be needed to help alleviate the stress of having so many in need in a place with such a limited availability of personnel and medication.  They need more resources.  One of our attempts at the moment is to reach out to the nursing school in Rwanguba where the CAMP Fund gives support to students and to see if they can provide a supportive role in attending the many refugees who need basic attention.  Perhaps they could even launch an information campaign for the prevention and treatment of common diseases.  You would be surprised what a little information can do for prevention of infant death in such circumstances.  As a child I sang many times in front of crowds of hundreds in Swahili about how to feed solutions of salt and sugar to children as a means to stop the runs--and the dehydration that often kills them.  While it may strike the average person as odd to sing public songs about common household items to arrest the trots, this is a famous "oral rehydration therapy" formula is one example of an effective and cheap means to help families battle a common killer of the vulnerable--particlarly infants.  It requires only that information is distributed well and that the basic substances be made available.  Although the needs are great, much can be done with little if one knows what's needed.  Those who have a good grasp of the situation will know best what kind of information will help us protect those in need as we give aid to the people coordinating local efforts.

The CAMP fund takes up this relief effort in the spirit of my father's dedication to bring medical help to Rwanguba as a center of care for the region and to take action to coordinate efforts responding to acute needs.  As a friend of ours sent us a letter after my father passed describing an urgent effort of his nearly twenty years ago at the Rwanguba hospital that helps give us a view of the challenges and possibilities afoot:

... what a man of action your dad was, especially if people needed help or if there was work to be done... a huge shipment from Compassion International--3 truckloads I think--arrived at 5 AM on Saturday morning at Rwanguba and had to be unloaded immediately. One of the trucks got stuck in the mud between our hill and yours, which knocked out a power line. Your dad gathered all the men on the station. They got the unstuck truck out of the mud, eventually fixed the power line, and unloaded the trucks. Jim figured that setting up a human chain to unload was the best way; therefore, each person ended up handling all the medicines, more than 2 tons worth and enough to supply the hospital for two years! Jason [pictured below] and Becky helped, too.  The entire station worked together side by side--some fixed food, some took care of the missionary patient, some watched the younger kids, and all the men kept busy outside. So good for unifying Team Rwanguba.

It's never exactly easy or uncomplicated in Rwanguba, as the anecdote above illustrates.  The basic conditions are challenging enough without additional complications.  But when the right people are coordinating and cooperating to meet needs, the impact is positive and solid.  We hope you will join us in forming a long human chain to Rwanguba to pass the hospital what they need to keep functioning.  The many small gifts that pass through your hands and ours will reach them quickly, meaning that the talented staff there can still  function as they do best--to divert further disaster and to save lives.


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