Mission Partners

The Show Down

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This article is a continuation of part 1 and part 2 of a series of posts by Tessa.

On Saturday morning my phone buzzed, early. “The Ministry of trade are coming on Monday.” Coming to make our councillors halt the alcohol ordinance. The snake show-down. I leapt out of bed with a rush of adrenaline. Good-bye sleep in, good-bye weekend.

“Real” Organizing

For the next 60 hours, I got to feel like a ‘real’ community organizer, constantly on the phone saying things like, “So Pastor, you are Councillor Simon’s friend? Think you can influence his vote on Monday?” and “how many people can you bring with you to the council hall?” The tactic was two fold. 1) Fill the the council hall with as many community members and prominent religious, cultural and political leaders as possible, and 2) create pressure on each of the councillors to use their vote to defend the ordinance. Those councillors got a lot of phone calls in the following 48 hours. Despite all the efforts, on Sunday night we were still nervous. There were still rumors of bribes floating around.

On Monday, Wakonye Kenwa members were the first ones there (pictured above).

By 10am on Monday morning, the council hall was absolutely packed. The mood was excited and defiant, as the clip on on national TV captured. Every time a prominent Acholi personality entered there were cheers and waving of placards. Our group had made our own signs, messages for the councillors like “Leaders, don’t back down” and messages targeted at NRM (the ruling party) based on their own slogans like”Wealth Creation” and “Productivity and Growth.” Others had written their own edgier ones. My favorite: “Ministry of Trouble, Indecency and Corruption” (instead of trade, industry and cooperatives).

The Debate

I was disappointed Amelia didn’t come in person. Her represent spoke at length, using as many long words as possible. His main point seemed to be “we are sailing in the same direction” but that Gulu needed to wait. He claimed Gulu was breaking Uganda’s agreement with the World Trade Organization (Technical Barriers to Trade, Articles 2 and 3), because Gulu was not giving ‘time’ for companies to adjust their packaging.

One after another, the councilors responded. They spoke about how important the ordinance was to Gulu District. They challenged the Ministry’s motivations for interfering, and why there was no need for Gulu to ‘wait,’ noting all the times the Ministry had blocked national efforts for alcohol law reform. My favorite response was a councilor smoking the Ministry’s WTO defense by pointing out that all of the sachet alcohol trade is within Uganda, not between countries (and therefore has nothing to do WTO agreements).

Acholi pride

A tipping point reached when Norbert Mao showed up, a much loved Acholi (regime opposition) politician of iconic-hero like proportions. Whose name makes him sound like some kind of epic Chinese dragon. A councillor moved a motion that a sample of sachet alcohol be presented to the Ministry’s representative ‘for tasting.’ The speaker emotionally declared that ‘normal procedures’ for a full council meeting would not be followed, and invited all the ‘VIPS’ to speak- Bishops, Shieks, traditional chiefs, and of course, Mao. They spoke about how Acholis had suffered for decades of war. Years of fear, violence and oppression led to heavy drinking patterns. Alcohol companies exploit this. The Ministry wants to protect these companies to maintain their profit at the expense of Acholi people. How dare these people from Kampala tell Gulu to get rid of their law? The debate took on new dimensions. This was a matter of Acholi pride, protection of Acholi people.

In the aftermath of that Monday, there was a collective sense of triumph and unity. While I’d questioned the Chairman (Owl’s) wisdom in allowing the meeting to take place, I believe it achieved something quite profound.

All the local media stations covered the story, and so did the national paper, The Daily Monitor. Norbert Mao wrote an opinion article featured in the Sunday monitor titled “Gulu trailblazing ordinance should be supported”One online media outlet even ran a piece about how the Speaker turned down millions of shillings of bribe money to protect the Ordinance. I took him a clipping and some photos. He was stoked. When a Ugandan politician is proud of turning down a bribe, that is something to celebrate.

Towards Team-hood? (Issue 30)

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Here’s a little ad I just whipped up:

Cheap avocados. 50c bags of mangos. Hobbit-worthy grass-thatched dome housing. An orange flowering vine winding over the veranda. Living 100% off the grid. It’s the dream! The sun’s energy to charge your laptop and rain to provide water to hand-wash your clothes (which is very idyllic and not at all tedious). Whether you’re a teacher, a change-maker, a business person, a nurse, a mechanic or a theologian, there’s more at stake and more potential here than anything you’ve encountered before. God’s at work and there‘s plenty to do. So come join our little team!

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it would be like here in Gulu, Northern Uganda, if we were part of a mini-team with a shared purpose and common rhythms. My husband, Nick, and I have lived here now for over three years. Determined to connect locally, we dedicated our first five months to language learning and joined the closest Anglican church. We spent time sitting and listening. For our first year we stubbornly turned down invitations from other ‘non-nationals’ to socialize. After all, we came to befriend Ugandans, not Australians, right?

Around a year in, we found we deeply missed culturally-familiar conversations with similarly educated people and fellow Christians who were willing to pursue us, hold us accountable and challenge us. We sheepishly called the Australians back. Why couldn’t we find this amongst our many local friends, who we deeply love and respect? It’s a hard question to answer, but despite being surrounded by many caring local neighbours, we’ve often felt isolated, lonely and overwhelmed by the seemingly endless need around us and the challenges and frustrations of our work.

A month ago I sat in Gulu’s dusty, bustling bus park, carefully scanning the rows of passengers on each bus that swung in. Right on time, our friend emerged with his glorious kiwi-accent, wearing a marmite laden tramping pack. My sister arrived a week later, and another friend just in time for Christmas. Now, with five of us living in our little hut, we have a glimpse at what team-hood might be like here.

Since they’ve arrived I’ve been thinking even more about why doing life and mission as a team makes a lot of sense. Here’s my top five:

1. Becoming more available to neighbours

This Saturday morning our neighbour Lucy popped round to charge her phone with our solar and bring us a papaya from her tree. Our friend Opiyo dropped by to process some bad news: his carpentry teacher was killed in a car crash. After lunch a band of four kids arrived ready to read their story-books, answer a quiz on the content and exchange it for a new one. We want to be available to our neighbours, and we want to be part of our community. But with just the two of us, we can’t always handle so many visitors. Since our three friends arrived, if I have my hands full cooking dinner, or I’ve had a rough day, we don’t have to turn the kids away. There’s usually someone there with the energy to make someone welcome.

2. Life logistics

Without running water, washing machines, a stove top or a fridge, life takes a bit longer. Division of labour is not an overrated concept. We take turns cooking, and it’s just way more efficient. My sister and I wash the clothes, and the boys fetch the water from the borehole with a wheelbarrow. We all get to avoid our least favourite tasks!

3. Greater scope for creative re-charge time

Before we arrived in Uganda, Nick and I never, ever watched TV series. I’m too embarrassed to confess how many I’m now familiar with. As excellent as my personal favourites ‘the Wire’ and ‘the West Wing’ may be, we’ve definitely over-dosed. A combination of factors led to this trend. Often we’ve felt so exhausted by the work day, community interaction and domestic tasks to find the energy to do much else. Local friends don’t like to move around after dark so there are limited social opportunities. Since our visitors arrived, bringing with them new energy and creativity, we’ve spent more time singing, running, playing games and discussing life over long meals outside. Some forms of relaxing are just better for the soul.

4. Spiritual discipline

There’s this bit in Romans which reads: “I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another” (The Message, 7:15). I know I’m not healthy if I don’t regularly take time out to be quiet and listen to God. Yet I too frequently lack discipline to actually do it! I’d love to try group spiritual rhythms and times for prayer, whether it was something collective or an individual thing we all do at the same time. Other people can help us commit to ways of life that we’ve decided we want.

5. Common vision for a common location

A month ago I was part of a disastrous meeting. It felt like our community organizing group was irretrievably falling apart at the seams. I was low, confused. I came home to our temporary team. They were a sounding board, giving me perspective and hope. And sometimes, discussions lead to new ideas altogether. The other day my sister and I were thinking about what the early seeds of an organic woman’s rights movement would look like in Gulu, and we discussed the idea of starting a woman’s dance and discussion group. There’s something special about living with people with common visions for a common location. Frustrations get aired and discussed. Challenges collectively pondered. New creative ideas emerge.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking lately. It’s been a great, tumultuous, inspiring three years by ourselves. But there might be a whole other way of doing things round the bend. I’m sure it won’t be all rosy tinted, I’m sure living in a team would bring its own conflicts and challenges. But I’d love to try. And in case you’re wondering, I’m entirely serious about my opening ad. Get in touch.

Tessa & Nick are NZCMS Mission Partners in Uganda. Tessa heads up a Community Organising group that tackles various social issues in the broader community. For more from the Laings visit ugandapanda.com

For discussion

In what ways do you feel lonely, isolated and overwhelmed?

How could Tessa’s top five apply to your context? What points would you add to your list?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

The enforcement begins

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I woke up, wired, my head buzzing with questions. Would the police go ahead with the plan? Will the District send a big truck like they promised? Will we find the sachets of alcohol or have retailers hidden them too well? How will the shopkeepers react? If we do find sachets, will the District come through on their promise to give us somewhere to put them? In Gulu, no matter how much you try, a ‘plan’ is never really more than a series of vague uncoordinated questions. Fred, a key ally is already waiting at the police station at 7am, coolly sipping a mug of millet porridge. We are soon joined by Anthony, Boniface and Cristo, all revving to go.

After an hour and a half of milling around we spot the District Police Commander. “There’s an emergency, the operation will be delayed until its dealt with.” We watch as officers are loaded into an open-topped vehicle and speed off. The Police Commander, standing near us, demands updates on his cell phone “Is he dead? Where are the suspects?” A mob were lynching two suspected motorcycle thieves. By the time the police arrived (an hour late), they had been burnt to death. Officers returned and joined our circle, cheerfully one-upping one another on the most horrific lynchings they had seen, the details of which I shall spare you. I politely declined viewing a cell phone snap of this mornings victims. More time passed. 10am came and went. With plenty of phone calls from our team, we managed to get the District truck sent with a driver to wait on standby, and made sure the police vehicles had fuel.

Then suddenly, my mouth still full of chapatti, we were all go. Officers piled into police vans, last second confusion and changes of targets. My convoy hit up the wholesale street in the centre of town. While I’m used to seeing police operations on my teenage favourite “The Bill’ or more recently the infinitely superior “The Wire,” this operation resembled toddlers playing tag in the dark. The District Police Commander soon became completely redundant as operation commander when he got into what turned out to be an hour long dispute with a shopkeeper.

Most of the police considered themselves above lifting boxes and loading them into the truck. They had no plan for how the loading should take place. We lifted boxes ourselves, and hired some young guys on the spot.

While most of the shop keepers responded calmly, one retailer was furious. He had 30 boxes of sachets confiscated, worth millions of Ugandan shillings. He leapt on the truck and tried to throw his boxes back. The drama attracted a crowd.

By 2:30pm, the mission was complete. Between the two sites targeted, 307 boxes of sachets were impounded. That’s around 44000 sachets. Despite our hassling, a storeroom had still not been identified. I had to check several major hotels to find the District Chairperson at one of two meetings he was supposedly attending, accompany him back to the District Headquarters, find the storekeeper, accompany the storekeeper to find an appropriate store, and ring the truck to come. An hour of lifting heavy smelly boxes in the sun later.

Boom. First operation, done.

It was reported in the national papers…even if they got the numbers wrong:

Daily monitor report “police confiscate 150 cartons of sachet waragi”

Celebrations and Retreats

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To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Europe the Evangelical churches in my area have organised a series of events throughout this year. It was a joy to be at the first of these events and to see churches around the region coming together to celebrate.

Our church had a women’s retreat early February. I was asked to share a small refection from the Bible. It’ll was my first time sharing in Spanish with the Church Women – exciting but a little nerve wracking too!

Fervent Prayer It’s clear here that prayer is key in seeing any church planting work spring up and community transformation take place. Recently a group of us have begun investigating how we can pray in a more informed way for our region through prayer and historical research. I’m part of a group which meets weekly to prayer walk around a particular suburb of the city. It’s one of the highlights of my week to be learning with these women and to encourage one another to be persistent pray-ers.

Please be praying for more people to catch this vision for prayer and for others to join our small prayer and research group. Also pray for God to be working in the hearts of my non believing friends, making them curious and soft towards him. And give thanks for the Reformation celebrations the year and for the churches in this region who are meeting together during the year.

I keep being thankful to God for your prayer and support in other ways. Thank you!

Samoan Kiwis in the Philippines

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We are in mourning: The Kiwi-Samoan team from Christchurch has left us! We all enjoyed the team, led by Watari Maina and Ropeta, so much. Even our neighbours knew somehow that we had visitors.

They took songs and testimony in every place and gave a three day session for our staff on Basic Counselling Skills with an easy to use model. They took six sessions with the children in the Home using a TREE as their model. The children all drew their own trees and wrote in all sorts of things about their lives, ending with their dreams for the future. The children are still talking about their trees!

Then on the last day the team gave a Tofa Soifua (Farewell dinner). Not only that, but afterwards they gave out gifts of appreciation that they had brought from NZ – including tapa cloth, fans and lollies. Now I know why the suitcases were so big! Our staff commented: “we have never received anything like this before!”

Update from Andrew

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Though its a little late, I wanted to say Happy New Year! Wishing you a bright and hopeful entry into 2017. Thank you for your friendship and support. 

2016 was the toughest year ever for our family. As you know, my wife Debbie passed away in June in Ethiopia due to malaria and typhoid. This has been an indescribable loss for me and also for our five kids. We are getting on with our lives but she has left an enormous hole. Thank you all for your consolations, encouragements, thoughts and prayers. 

My health has improved, after contracting the same illnesses Debbie had, and I feel like I am almost back to normal. I still have to keep an eye on my blood pressure and heart rate but my weight has returned (still skinny though).

I’ve been musing  on the reformation of the church in this 500th anniversary year, focusing on the creative missional entrepreneurs who are reshaping the form of missions and church to impact the world. (Contact office@nzcms.org.nz for more.)

Your financial support helped us equip Europeans to reach out to refugees from Syria and beyond and bring God’s light to spiritual seekers in various festivals and gatherings. It also helped us to mentor African agriculturalists and social entrepreneurs in seven West African countries. 

In 2017, we plan to increase our efforts in Europe to respond to the refugee crisis, assist the formation of a training base in Europe, equip Christian leaders in at least 14 European countries, and offer training and teaching to churches and organisations in impacting the next generation. Your continued prayers and gifts will make this possible. Our support level is critically low at the moment and we really need your help.

Thank you for your partnership!

Will it work?

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As the rickety pickup rolled in on the narrow village track, I had two thoughts bumping around. One, the nerves and excitement of starting our second clinic. Did we bring all the equipment? Is our young nurse going to be OK? Is the door even going to be unlocked?

And Two. Who is OJ Maxswel?  The picture above is of the hut right next to the clinic.

Don’t worry, this blog is not about OJ Maxswel.

I try to be objective and use head over heart when selecting new clinic sites, but my heart has broken a bit for this place. Ocim needs a clinic, it really does. If you get sick there, even accessing bad quality health care is difficult. And the place is gorgeous. It’s the closest you’ll get to an idyllic village, with pigeon houses, traditional granaries, and decorated huts. Even in dry season I was captivated.

But my heart breaking doesn’t mean that the clinic is going to become sustainable. It’s a 6 month trial, to see whether the demand from the community will be enough to keep the place going. There’s a whole lot of reasons the thing should work. But there are almost as many why it won’t.

 

Why Ocim Outreach Clinic will work 1) When I assessed Ocim, I asked a bunch of locals how many hours it took to walk to the nearest health centre. I couldn’t get a number, but some people said “We leave to go there just after the sun rises, and we get back just before it sets” 2) It costs $5  for transport alone to access any medical care. Our clinic costs $2 at most 3) Reverend Ojok, the local Anglican minister is an publicity machine. On the way back from the clinic he taped 3 posters promoting the health centre on the walls of shops and talked to everyone he saw about it. Legend. 4) The community is proud of their new clinic. They want to make it work. 5) The clinic has got instant cred and trust by being  run by the Church of Uganda. Our nurse Naume is a Christian, and the community knows she’ll pray with them if they want that. 6) My heart says it will 7) Because “OJ Maxswel, king of the king” is there. What more do you need?

 

Why it won’t 1) People are very poor. Nearly everybody there is a subsistence farmer. One dollar for kids and two dollars for adults may not seem like much to be treated for serious diseases, but for Ocim, it still might be too much. 2) The population is relatively sparse compared to around other clinics 3) It’s not on a main road, or in trade hub. We’re using the only available iron roof building in the area. This means the clinic is not very public and visible, and we can only treat locals, not people who are passing through. 4) The day to day existence of a small clinic like this is fragile. One robbery, one fire, and one aberrant guy harassing our nurse and it could be enough to sink the ship. 5) My heart is often wrong

 

From huts within sight of the health centre, two mothers came with their kids while we were still unpacking the truck. Both had high fevers. One had malaria, and had a seizure in the morning. The other had a large skin infection on their right butt cheek. Both mothers had been trying to wait out their child’s illness, unable or unwilling to pay the large transport cost to the nearest health centre. Both if the kids will now be fine. That’s why we’re here.

And the second thing on my mind? Here he is, OJ Maxwell himself. “King of the King”.

Where’s the rain?

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It’s great to have this opportunity to share with you what’s been happening… or not!… in this faraway part of God’s Kingdom. December started very busily with exams, and graduation for John, Emanueli, Jackson and Matthias, who have completed their two-year course. Emanueli and Jackson have already got placements as catechists in their parishes. John is a very bright student who should be going on to further studies, but having a girlfriend here in Kondoa complicates things!

There was a wedding the next weekend, and Peter was asked to preach at it. His first go at a wedding sermon, and it was a hit! He asked two clergy couples from the congregation to come forward. I tied their feet together as for a 3-legged race, and they set off down the aisle. They had never done such a thing before and there was great hilarity amongst those watching them stumble along. Peter’s point of course, was that it is quite difficult learning to walk together as a married couple, when previously they had walked independently. People were chuckling about it some weeks later!!

January 2, and we were off to Iringa for a week’s break. We were amazed at the excellent road from Dodoma, south to Iringa, through many villages that we could reach only by a dusty track back in the 90’s, up and over hills and across the impressive Mtera Dam. In Iringa, we stayed at the Neema Guest House which is attached to a restaurant and workshops where physically disabled people are learning many different crafts, then able to sell their wares and thus get a regular wage for the first time in their lives. A young and creative CMS UK couple are running it at present and doing a great job. We had breakfasts in the restaurant, which is staffed by profoundly deaf people, so we had to learn some sign language! Iringa is a busy and colourful town and we enjoyed many jaunts into the byways, on foot of course. We were also able to meet up with a friend whom we’d known as a little boy in Dodoma. He and his brother now sell to tourists beautiful paintings and handcrafts, and his sister is runner-up to Miss Tanzania! He took us to his house that he had recently built and we met his two little children.

The next week we returned to familiar territory, staying in the guest house at Msalato Bible College. There are still many families there that we knew from the 90’s and we were particularly pleased to spend some time with Mama Chitalika, her daughter Zilipa and 21 year old grandson Ivan.

We had to leave Msalato a couple of days early to prepare for an influx of 170 pastors and catechists arriving in Kondoa for a 3-day seminar. Two American clergy from North Carolina led it and they taught very well, based on Leadership and the letter to the Galatians. January is not generally a good time for a seminar, as everyone is out in their fields, digging and planting. However, because of the lack of rain there is no work to do, so why not attend a seminar in town where there will be good food! Peter had his hands full, trailing around various institutions borrowing mattresses, loading them in the pickup and downloading them at the Bible School, then reversing the whole process at the end. In between he was driving the visitors here and there, including a long village trip. More exacting was translating all the sessions into Swahili (except for one or two when Bishop Given took over). But Peter was in his element and did well!

When I wrote this, I was home alone for three days. Peter took a bus to Dodoma, then joined up with several others who were also travelling to a Provincial meeting of principals of all Anglican Bible Schools/Theological Colleges in Tanzania. There are weighty matters to discuss which will affect the standards expected and syllabi.  The meeting is being held in Berega, which is on the way to Morogoro , reasonably central for the participants.

 

However, the topic of every conversation, be ye Christian or Muslim, is the weather.

Some rain – beautifully refreshing from thunderous skies – has fallen for an hour or so at a time, but is followed by scorching days for a week or two. This does not produce a harvest, not even pasture for the cattle. Consequently, hundreds of cattle have died, and families in the villages are already starving.

Our Bible School students are due back on February 4. Before that, there are staff meetings and many decisions to make. Both staff and students will be frustrated that they have not been able to even prepare the fields, let alone plant their maize. They may have had to already feed their families on last year’s maize which they had set aside to plant. Bishop Given told us that many families have resorted to cooking their reserve of sunflower seeds. If good rains fall this week, they will be sorely tempted to get out in the fields, rather than come to study.

Please pray that amongst all the “what ifs”,  God will uphold His work here in Kondoa and give us wisdom and grace in our leadership here.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

It begins – New Health Center 1.0

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Narrow road, burnt grass, full load. We breathed a sigh of relief as our small pickup  arrived at Cet Kana, laden with all things required to start a new health clinic. The place is gorgeous, with one of the better views in Gulu overlooking thousands of palm trees on an open, sparsely populated plain. The clinic is next to the current and future church. Current is a skeleton of palm tree timbers, covered every Sunday with tarpaulins. Future is the brick building, with half-walls only.

We were a bit shocked to find that the rooms hadn’t been opened for months. After thirty minutes of sweeping and rearranging, Felix our nurse, and Fiona our assistant co-ordinator unpacked the drugs and equipment. Desks and chairs were moved into the clinic room. The blood pressure machine was unboxed. Within a couple of hours, two dusty unused rooms had been transformed into a nice wee health clinic.

There are two big advantages to the health clinic location.

The church owns the building so we don’t pay rent The Pastor and other church members have already been involved in weekly family planning clinics run from the building, so the church/health connection is already rolling.

But we are yet to see whether this will fly. Are there enough people in the area to justify a clinic (my biggest concern)? Can adults afford the 2500 Ugandan shillings (1 New Zealand dollar) we are asking to treat a child? Or the 5000 shillings (you do the math) to treat an adult? Can our nurse juggle the responsibilities of organising the facility, seeing patients and managing the money? After 3 months we’ll have some idea. After 6 months we’ll make the decision whether to continue or not. Taking a risk like this isn’t easy on the nerves, as it’s a big money and time investment. I keep reminding myself that even if the clinic “fails” to become sustainable, we still will have treated around 1000 patients more efficiently than most NGOs could manage. I also can’t help thinking that Jesus is into this kind of risk.

And its exciting. Seeing the first child handed over to nurse Felix to test for malaria was a small victory in itself. I’ll keep you updated with how things are tracking.

We are starting up 3 clinics like this with money already raised, and are aiming to start 2 more. If you’re keen to donate money towards starting the last 2, then message me at ugandapanda.com/contact-us/

A huge thanks to those of you in New Zealand, Australia and beyond who made this possible. You know who you are.

Saving a life, or two

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Our wonderful midwife Gloria ‘in the bush’ at Oberabic Health Centre had a hard night recently. She’s the only midwife there, so has to do most the work that involves mothers and babies, and make all the calls under really difficult circumstances. A miscarriage and a tricky delivery led to a long, intense evening which ended up really well for the mothers and newborn baby. Its hard to overstate what a fantastic job she did under the circumstances.

Apart from being a great story, and example of the great work that goes on at our health centres, this story is a microcosm of the struggles our patients and staff face all the time. Amongst other things Gloria and the patient faced these challenges. Feel free to add your own after watching the video.

The Patients: – No access to transport to get to a higher level facility – Poor knowledge of problems around birth, which led to the mother coming in late and not telling Gloria her waters had broke. – Lack of social support

Gloria – Working in the uncomfortable zone above your level of medical expertise – Having to do everything yourself (sterilise the equipment yourself, after you’ve already completed the delivery) – Understaffing