January 2015

Tragedy in Heliopolis

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Pictured: Members and friends of the St. Michael’s Church congregation gather to pray. Article re-posted from The Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

One child is dead and eight women are hospitalized following the Monday explosion of three gas bottles, sparking a fire in the Kilo 4.5 neighborhood of Nasr City in Cairo. The group of ladies were preparing a meal for a meeting at the St. Gabriel Center, a Sudanese social center and ministry of St. Michael’s Anglican Churchin Heliopolis.

Youssef Attiya, a nine-month-old infant, succumbed to smoke inhalation and died this morning. His mother Mona Ismail remains in critical condition in the Galaa Hospital of Nasr City.

Ikhlas Ali is also in critical condition, suffering burns over 90 percent of her body. She is two months pregnant and the wife of Rev. Hassan Jemes, associate pastor of St. Michael’s in charge of the Sudanese congregation. Hospital staff at the Nile Emergency Center in Nasr City said she has little chance to survive, according to Rev. Jos Strengholt, dean of East Cairo Anglican churches and priest-in-charge at St. Michael’s.

Another child, nine-year-old Sonita Musa, suffered a bad head wound but was discharged this morning. Her mother Aziza Ibrahim remains hospitalized but is in stable condition. According to Shawgi Kori, director of St. Gabriel’s Center, Ibrahim helped around eight other women and children escape the fire, pushing several through a window, before being injured herself.

The meal was to be in commemoration of a child relative of one of the church members who recently died in Sudan. The explosion blasted pots of boiling oil to the ceiling, which then sprayed onto several women. The church community is now organizing rounds of visitation to care for the injured and the needs of their families.

The St. Gabriel’s Center serves the large Sudanese refugee population of Nasr City without discrimination. It runs a clinic, a vocational training program, English lessons, and provides a social outlet especially for women and youth in the neighborhood. One of the injured women is a Muslim.

“These are women associated with our church,” said Rev. Strengholt, stating only two have medical insurance. “We are committed to helping them whatever we need to do.”


Since this was written four women have died, including Ikhlas, the wife of Rev Hassan. Rev Hassan Jemes is the priest of the Sudanese congregation and  just became the Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Kadugli and the Nuba Mountains. Our Mission Partner Rosie worked with Hassan in the prison previously – her heart breaks for him.

Big problem, small scale solutions

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To tell  you the truth, we almost gave up before we started.

I remember a very early meeting. We sat in front of a big piece of paper. One side of the paper read: possible sources of a new borehole. Scrawled beneath this heading: St Mary’s Hospital (compensation), NGOs that focus on water, local government. I stood up and wrote another heading in Acholi: challenges.

“National Water” replied Ocan, bluntly.

Everyone nodded. Lacor center officially falls within the municipality (town) boundary. The contaminated water source Lawula itself is exactly on the border between town and district. The national water company (100% government owned) has an agreement with the municipal authorities that there shall be no new boreholes drilled within the municipality.

Why? Well, the official reason is that Gulu must aim for city status. In cities, apparently, there should be no peasants walking to public boreholes. Rather, civilized city folk should all drink from private piped water. The real reason can be easily extrapolated. To use a private tap, people must pay for installation and ongoing use. National Water wants to make money. If more public boreholes are drilled, people will pay an ‘up-keep’ fee of 1000 Ugandan Shillings (50 NZ cents) per month for all their families water needs, rather than the much great cost of piped water. Therefore, don’t allow more boreholes, and eventually more people will be forced to buy their water.

In theory, people living within the municipality are supposed to be able to afford piped water. Some can. But many also cannot. Recently, our local borehole broke. The nearest public source is very far away, so we tried to find someone with a tap close by to buy water. We found many people with taps. However none of them had paid for their water recently, so it wasn’t flowing! They just couldn’t afford it.

In that meeting, we resolved to persist anyway. Where else but Uganda might we be able to find some way around this ‘agreement’?!

We took our research to ‘Feed the Children’ in Gulu. Respectful of National Water, they don’t work the municipality. We approached World Vision. They also only focus on the District. In fact, all the groups we talked with would not consider drilling boreholes within the town boundaries.

Finally, armed with our research paper, maps and a recommendation from our local health inspector, we knocked on the door of the District Water Officer. He listened to us, and read our research, and understood the depth of our problem. He came and met with local residents and leaders of our group. He said if we could raise a community contribution by collecting from every household, and organize a volunteer team to help with some manual labour, they would drill us our borehole. None of us mentioned the National Water Agreement.

After many weeks of our volunteers collecting from every household, we delivered our community contribution. We wait for drilling day! Sometimes, in some circumstances, the rules can be overlooked.

But my fear is that unless this ‘agreement’ is broken all over the township, Gulu’s obsession with city status will succeed in pushing its poor back to the villages