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  • Jenny Smyth

Worlds Apart

Updating policies is not my favourite task. Complying with protocols is a matter of great self-discipline! However, with the ever increasing demands of charity legislation and good governance, made infinitely more complex by the pandemic, we bravely battle on…

This week we introduced yet another health and safety measure and asked all staff to complete a ‘Working from Home - Risk Assessment Form’. Thankfully we have managed to facilitate home working for most staff, with remote access to the server and suitable means of communication. Currently half the staff team are based at home and it may be that another full lockdown will necessitate closing up the office again.

So I dutifully sat down to complete my ‘Working from Home’ form:

  • Is your working area warm, well-lit, well-ventilated and cleaned regularly?

  • Do you carry our regular stretches at your desk to avoid stiff or sore muscles?

  • Do you frequently carry hot drinks and food upstairs/ downstairs and risk tripping?

  • Do you have easy access to first aid equipment if required?

  • Is your home kept secure whilst you’re working there?

I worked my way through 37 such questions relating to safe, stress-free working. There is even a column asking about how my home situation could be improved further. Then my phone buzzed.

Earlier in the week, we had been contacted by two of our friends from Yei. One is the Manager of the Vocational Training College run by the Diocese of Yei; the other, the Bishop’s Chaplain. Morris and Simon were letting us know that they were planning to cross the border so that they could visit their families living in refugee camps in Uganda.

Life in the camps has been harsh. The food supplies have been dramatically reduced as international funding has been diverted to Covid responses. People are no longer able to move freely in and out of the camps and so cannot engage in small trading activities to supplement home supplies. The virus is present in the camps and health centres are overrun.

At the start of the pandemic, South Sudan closed all its borders, so Morris and Simon had not been able to see their families since Christmas. The border has just reopened, but in order to comply with requirements, they both had to obtain visas and negative Covid tests at considerable effort and expense. They managed to find the necessary funds, a suitable vehicle and fuel for the journey.

The main road from Yei to the border is murram (a clayey material). It has been raining heavily in South Sudan and many areas have experienced severe flooding. The roads have turned to quagmires and bridges are damaged. Sporadic violent incidents along the roads make travelling dangerous. Kidnappings, theft and murder are very real dangers for all travellers.

I lifted my phone: a WhatsApp message. An update and three photos sent from Uganda. Morris and Simon had made it safely to Arua. The photos showed the condition of the main road and the Land Cruiser thoroughly stuck. A manager and chaplain wielding hoes and digging the vehicle out of the mud.

I wonder what they will find when they eventually reach the camps and are reunited with their families? Certainly not the privileges of knowing that the homes they have left are safe, or that where they are going they will find electricity, running water, a mattress, a first aid kit…

They will, however, find a warm welcome, a share in whatever meal is prepared and joy in family reunion, knowing that life is a precious gift.

When I think about the gulf between our realities, I am really challenged to consider the words of 1 John 3:16-18...

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

What truths about global inequality do I need to wrestle with? What actions am I called to take?

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