Wheelnuts, Developments and the Future...

Spens Posted by John and Poppy Spens on Mon, 21 Jul 2008 | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

We are writing this on the last day of our short holiday in Uganda, in the northern town of Arua. It’s been a good break and an opportunity to catch up on sleep, enjoy pizzas, do some shopping and even to swim in the hotel pool!

Getting here was, as usual, a challenge and this time was made more interesting because a rear wheel decided to separate itself from the vehicle. We were travelling very slowly over a rough piece of road when the back of the car went bump, onto the axle. It seems the wheel nuts had worked loose and, one by one, had dropped off until none remained. So there we were on a narrow piece of rough track, two hours from Yei, in an area where there are no garages, not many people, no reception for the mobile phone, the satellite phone (which should work anywhere in the world) not working and, anyway, there is no RAC or AA. It wasn’t long before we started praying! After about 10 minutes, we heard the grinding gears of a lorry and trailer slowly coming towards us. As it came into view, it slowed down and we saw it had Congo plates. It couldn’t pass us because we were blocking the road so it stopped and three Congolese guys got out and approached us, talking in French. We had a Sudanese passenger in the car who had spent most of his childhood in refugee camps in Congo and he translated for us. They brought a jack and within about 20 minutes, they had sorted the problem, borrowing wheel nuts from the other 3 wheels and we were on our way again, $50 lighter but very happy that we could move again. We decided that we might have waited much longer for the AA! We arrived safely in Arua about 7 hours after leaving Yei (it’s a 100 mile journey) and got the wheel fixed next day as it was making a strange grinding sound. Nothing too serious and the bill at £3 was very affordable!

We often feel that it is an immense privilege to be working in a place like this. There can be many difficulties and frustrations but there are many very happy occasions too. Last Sunday, we were invited to take part in a thanksgiving service at Panyana Church, which is a village congregation about 40 miles from Yei. We had last visited Panyana in April when we had our vicar and curate with us and we had seen that the church roof of iron sheets had blown off during a severe storm in March. On our visit home in early May, we shared the Panyana photographs with the Christchurch congregation and, without making a big thing of it, enough was given by the congregation to renew the roof, do some other repairs to the church, buy some school books and make a contribution to a new accommodation block for guests. We brought the money to Sudan with us at the end of May, the roof was fixed in June and we were invited to attend a wonderful service of celebration. What a privilege to be involved in such things! A couple of weeks earlier, John had visited the small village of Mongo where, thanks to gifts from churches in Connor Diocese, a new primary school was under construction and there was a celebration to mark the completion of block 1. The children danced and sang and John was given a live chicken to bring home for supper.

The Vocational Training College has come a long way in the last four months. Thanks to gifts from a couple from Winchester, a very large workshop and two new classrooms have been built. Tools have been bought for two new courses and four new instructors recruited. The 102 students can now study one of five subjects, the newest subjects being electrical installation and plumbing, water and sanitation. Although the fees are kept very low, the students still struggle to pay and we have now introduced a bursary scheme to help the most needy.

We return to Yei on 21st July and that gives us eight more weeks before we depart in mid-September to make sure that the College continues strongly whilst it waits for a new co-ordinator to be recruited. The latest news we have from CMS Ireland is that it has recently advertised the position. We will do what we can to provide ongoing support and we plan that we will return to Yei for one month in November. We are also making plans to spend up to six months in Sudan in 2009 and the remainder in UK. Poppy wants to continue to support the Martha clinic in any way she can and we hope there will be opportunities to develop other clinics that are not too far from Yei if funds are forthcoming from major donors. We hope to base ourselves in Yei, in the small cottage that was originally built for us, although we may travel more widely in Sudan giving advice to Dioceses on health initiatives as well as administrative and financial matters. We are still uncertain about how this will all work out but we hope that all will become clearer in due course.

At the Martha clinic, numbers of patients are still rising which is causing a problem of congestion. A friend of one of our sons courageously competed in a triathlon and raised funds towards building a new waiting room. A friend paid the balance. We are so grateful for this.

The malaria nets we were given for ante-natal patients are now virtually finished but we have been promised a further supply, which have not yet arrived. In June, with two nurses from UK, we began an immunisation programme and they vaccinated over 300 children in the 10 days they spent in Yei. We are about to start a health education programme for the patients while they wait in the new waiting room. A management team of 3 of the staff is being set up to lead the clinic, with Poppy taking on more of an advisory role.

Recently John has helped the Diocese with some management training and we anticipate that, before he leaves in September, he will be speaking at some further workshops. Poppy is finding that the Martha Clinic is beginning to attract the attention of some quite large organisations and “big people” are visiting to see what is going on. So there is much to keep us both busy. We remain in very good health and are looking forward to our first grandchild who should arrive sometime around Christmas.

With our love, John and Poppy Spens