Sunday, 28 September 2008

Simple Advice For Burn Victims Goes a Long Way

I saw a young woman here today, carrying a child whose arm was wrapped in a plastic bag. The woman told me her baby had been caught by red hot sparks in last night’s terrible fire but was now doing OK. Thinking quickly and with her little bit of first aid training in mind, the young mother had been able to save her baby from being scarred by dousing the burn with water and wrapping it in plastic. It makes me appreciate what we take for granted on the NHS back home.

Still, even in the UK, how many of us would know what to do to treat burns on the spot? Perhaps we are too keen to automatically pick up the mobile and call an ambulance or run into A and E, whereas a little basic first aid training could be useful for all of us. Like Joseph and millions of his compatriots have discovered you can never be too prepared for the unthinkable happening, when everything you have come to rely on is taken away.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Sanitation Engineers Make ‘Street Map’.

Today I interviewed some of the engineers who are building new toilet and washing facilities in the camp. These are really badly needed. Right now, they’re just huts with grass curtains across the doors and there’s only one for every 35 or 40 people.

The engineers showed me a map of the services they’re planning – on their QuantumSat phones! Everyone’s got them out here it seems. You can see how they have tried to map out the alleys and spaces between the huts. They would only have to name the streets and it really would be just like a town. I managed to get a copy of the map. I’ll upload onto my Flickr account when I get a chance.

Just When You Thought You’d Lost Everything…

Today I saw dozens of huts burnt to the ground in one part of the camp. No wonder the people I spoke to 2 days ago mentioned theft and fire as their biggest worries, with one leading to the other. The women are well aware that the sight of food and anything of value outside their hut will most likely draw the attention of thieves. In such desperate circumstances, I don’t think any of us can honestly say we might not be reduced to stealing. So to keep their few possessions safe the women cook inside their huts but a strong gust of wind can quickly whip a small fire from one hut to the next, eating up the dry thatched roofs and destroying great areas of the camps. And so people end up losing whatever small belongings they have managed to scrape together in the months or years they’ve spent in the camps

Sunday, 21 September 2008

First Aid Centre in the Camp.

I can now confirm that I am definitely neither macho nor intrepid. I was sitting in a family’s hut while they told me their story – on my way out, I managed to smack my head on the doorframe and ended up with a bleeding gash to my head.

There’s a small first aid centre in the camp where they managed to sort me out. Located in the south of the camp near the main road, the centre is staffed by overworked Ugandan volunteers who can perform basic first aid; they also decide who, if anyone, will be transferred to the hospital. The hospital is several kilometres away by truck – or even bicycle ambulance. There are serious shortages of staff and supplies at the hospital, so they only send the people who absolutely have to go. Fortunately, Im not one of them!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Disease Spreads Like Wildfire

As well as the heat, one of the things that has overwhelmed me here is the sheer number of ill people I seem to see in the camp. The huts are so close to each other that any disease that takes a hold here spreads very quickly and easily. As well as all the complications of HIV and AIDS, malaria is also common. I keep coming across open drains and pools of stagnant water with clouds of mosquitoes around them. Some people and in particular pregnant women have mosquito nets: they are provided as part of the kits given out by the Red Cross for expectant mothers within the camp. They’re called ‘mama bags’ and also contain sterilised medical supplies and nappies. The worst sight I have come across here is babies who are sick with malaria who were unlucky or just did not have access to malaria nets–

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Moving to Hopetown

Moving in and out of an IDP camp called Hopetown. It’s like nowhere I’ve ever been – a world within a world. Like a town in some ways – streets and streets of identical huts packed together, children playing, people everywhere. But somehow there’s not a lot of activity. Thousands of people are here, but it doesn’t feel like they’re doing anything. I suppose there’s nothing for them to do, apart from just exist. Some of them have been here for 15 years and seem resigned to never being able to leave and get back to their normal lives.

It’s not a happy place. I don’t feel totally safe here – for this to be a refuge for these people, their alternative must have been unthinkably dangerous.

But it’s not all bad. I’ve seen people singing, dancing and laughing with each other. There are people cooking outside their huts and selling crops and other goods. There are makeshift schools in the camp. People are incredibly resourceful and they’re making what life they can here, improvising a community.

And overall things are getting better in Uganda. The conflict is dying down and some of these people may be able to start going home – those that have anything left to go back to.
Hopetown’s not the camp’s real name, just a nickname I’ve heard a lot of the residents use. Maybe it was meant as some sort of grim joke when the camp was started at the height of the war, but I think it’s becoming more appropriate.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Memories of Sweetville

Have been to a village a few kilometres away and met some of the people, mostly women . There were some teenage girls and boys there who were just kids when the war separated them from their families and many saw family members and friends killed. Some of them were even recruited as child soldiers themselves. Thinking back to what I was doing at their age (mostly thinking about girls), it’s almost impossible to understand what these young people have been through and the choices they’ve had to make. Some of them have been trying to trace what’s left of their families through the Red Cross. This is done by filling in a form, giving as much information as possible about the relative they’re trying to find and how they were separated – maybe drawing a map. The Red Cross uses its global network to try and put them back in touch – and that can lead to them being reunited with their missing loved ones.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Red Cross, Looking For Loved Ones.

I’m here in Northern Uganda to report on how the Red Cross tracing and message service works. It tries to put people in touch with long lost family members who’ve been separated by conflict or disaster anywhere in the world. You wouldn’t think it would be hard these days – between email, mobile phones and the rest, we take it for granted we can track our friends and family down pretty easily if we need to. But in a lot of these war-torn countries, it can be like a needle in a haystack. If there’s one message here, though, it’s that there’s always hope.

I’m out in the field tomorrow following some internally displaced persons (IDPs) in transit between urban camps to smaller camps nearer their villages. IDPs are like refugees, but they don’t actually leave their country. Apparently their case in Uganda was described by the UN as the “world’s worst forgotten humanitarian crisis on earth”. They fled far and wide while the conflict was in full force, and cluster together in these camps for safety, but hostilities have died down now and a lot of people are cautiously heading back towards their homes. It’s still not completely safe for them to go home, though, and many are looking for lost relatives. I’m keen to finally get out there.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

I’m Not Quick With Quantum

Couldn’t get through on the QuantumSat phone so no news of Wiffy. Very worrying that I can’t get the phone working properly. At least I can use the email function to send these blog entries. The world will not stop turning after all! Making the most of the indoor bathroom with flushing loo while I can. Apparently some of the places I am about to cover have just one outdoor loo shared by 40 people!

I’ve been reading the QuantumSat manual again this morning. Despite the flak jacket and aviator sunglasses I’m not really your macho, intrepid journo type but as far as I can tell, these fancy new phone/web combo apps mean that if I ever get shot, kidnapped, hospitalised with malaria or trampled by other, more macho and intrepid journo types who know how to use their QuantumSat phones – I can share video messages with other contacts and see my exact location on a map and therefore save my neck if I’m lost or in great danger. This is the state of modern news reporting. I might never be awarded the Pulitzer Prize but I could be remembered as a dot on a map! Still, I’m not off to the field until tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Finally Arrived in Northern Uganda

Finally arrived in one piece after a very long indirect flight from Heathrow to Kampala and a blistering drive across country in an old army truck. I’ve not really been outside much yet. The hotel is OK; can’t complain about the hot shower and clean sheets though there was a cockroach on my pillow – it’s the little touches that make all the difference.

Unpacked, forgot my deodorant! However, managed to get my new sat phone up and running. Hopefully this will work better than the last one, I really don’t have much luck with technology – we seem to have a natural enmity. Apparently this new QuantumSat phone is connected to a website and has some fancy GPS map type things, which I’ll probably never learn to use. It comes with an online interface thingy. Just as long as I can phone the cat-sitter back home in Dulwich and make sure Wiffy is getting her worm medicine.