Birthdays, Banks, BSF and Busyness!

Spens Posted by John and Poppy Spens on Fri, 29 May 2009 | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

May has rushed by and we are nearly at the half way point of our 15 week stay in Yei. Poppy celebrated her birthday here in April and John celebrated his on Saturday. It’s not easy to find suitable presents and Sudanese people do not generally celebrate birthdays. So Poppy gave John an African shirt and two apples! Apples cannot normally be found in Yei but Poppy found a shop selling some and snapped up two. If you want mangoes, that would be a different story. Poppy bought 15 last week for 57p. Anyway, thinking of birthdays, when a local person found out it was John’s birthday, he organised for a group of trumpeters to play Happy Birthday to you, in our front garden. They had never heard the tune before but they picked it up and had a go. These trumpeters are from a village near to the Congo border and they had been doing an outreach in the area with the youth group of Immanuel Cathedral. The trumpeters play well but don’t have their own instruments so must borrow trumpets and trombones from across the border in Congo! Can you imagine, nipping to England to get your violin? Poppy would like to find a supply of second hand trumpets and trombones and if anyone knows of a source, please let her know.

Unless you regularly surf the net and read the Sudan Tribune, you will not have heard of the liquidity problems of the Nile Commercial Bank (NCB), which started two months ago. The bank, which used to be the only one in Yei, basically ran out of money and no-one could withdraw funds from their account. Poppy and I had only small amounts in the bank but the Martha Clinic kept its money there as did the Diocese, the micro enterprise scheme and the vocational training college. Transfers from the UK sent in March have still not been credited to the account and, although the Bank of Southern Sudan (BoSS) has said it will support the bank with funding so that we will eventually get our money, there is no sign of when this will be. In the meantime, we are trying to ensure that the Clinic and College can continue to run and to pay salaries at the end of each month. Poppy was able to pay all the staff at the Martha Clinic in April and has enough for May. The College was able to pay its staff thanks to a gift from the UK that arrived on pay day – 30th April. Another gift should be enough to see us through in May.

At the end of April, our team was visited by someone from the Basic Services Fund (BSF) secretariat to see how we were getting on with spending their money. We took the lady to the villages that have been selected for the mobile clinic, for boreholes and to the location of one of the two schools we are building. At each location, we met community leaders (left) to explain the projects and we were very well received by Boma Chiefs, Payam Administrators, church leaders and other leading members of the community. John said how similar the meetings were to the tenant consultation meetings he used to attend in Andover.

The mobile clinic has been ordered and is now on a ship steaming to Mombassa. We are hoping the Somali pirates will leave it alone. Poppy is struggling to work out which papers need to be sent where and how we can avoid paying a large amount of import tax when the vehicle arrives in Southern Sudan. Without email, we don’t know how this task would be managed as there is no postal service in Southern Sudan. The little mail we get is flown here by MAF and we meet the plane at the Yei airstrip. But birthday cards sent to John over a month ago have still not arrived!!

We previously detailed all the projects we are managing so we will not repeat this information. John is keeping an overall eye on the finances and is the one responsible for sending in the monthly and quarterly reports to CMS Ireland, to be sent on to the donors. Our assistant, Nelie, keeps wonderful financial records but two weeks ago she dislocated her shoulder playing volleyball and was flown with her husband back to the Netherlands for an operation. Nelie is eager to return to Yei as soon as possible and is frustrated that she is now on a waiting list for treatment. We are equally eager for her return!

Poppy is handling all the health tasks, which are many, and is finding that nothing is easy. Even finding training places for nurses and midwives can be tricky as it is often very hard to find out the information you need as to where you apply, how you apply, when you apply and how much you pay. Poppy is still quite involved in the management of the Martha clinic but is gradually handing over and is now getting things ready for the new clinic in Lainya (above), which she hopes will open in January 2010. Poppy is also preparing a health education programme for the Mothers Union which will make good use of her health visiting experience. Sadly that experience does not fit her so well for her work managing the contracts for borehole drilling! John meanwhile is preparing contracts and plans for the construction of two primary schools, liaising with local government and interviewing builders. The process is really not very different from building a housing development in his previous job, although his team is rather smaller than it used to be!

We plan to return to UK on 27th July, stay for nearly 4 weeks then travel to USA for our son Davey and Erin’s wedding on 29h August. That will be a most exciting time!

With our love, John and Poppy Spens