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No Break for South Sudan: Clinic Goes Up, Violence Rains Down

As we approached the end of 2013, we looked forward to sharing inspiring news of our completed medical clinic in Old Fangak, South Sudan. In recent weeks though, there has been news of violent military conflict in this recently independent country and the info coming at us from international news sources and from the village is not good....

As we approached the end of 2013, we looked forward to sharing inspiring news of our completed medical clinic in Old Fangak, South Sudan. In recent weeks though, there has been news of violent military conflict in this recently independent country and the info coming at us from international news sources and from the village is not good. Victims of this sudden war are slowly making their way to a doctor whose name in this remote land is known far and wide.

There is no road to Old Fangak, and it’s several days’ walk or boat ride to other sparsely populated areas, but even so, our clinic offers a beacon of hope for anyone seeking medical care on this unforgiving landscape. Built for Dr. Jill Seaman, the Alaskan physician who donates about 6 months of her year to helping the people of this area, the new clinic was constructed by a team of dedicated volunteers from Old Fangak and from Alaska, all representatives of ASMP&#8212the Alaska Sudan Medical Project.

 Help From Abroad

You’ll recall the clinic was nearing completion in December of 2012 when a fire blazed through just days before Christmas, thwarting our final efforts, and for a moment truly testing the spirit of our small non-profit organization. Yet while tiny plumes of smoke still wafted upward from the rubble, wheels were already in motion that would essentially undo what had just happened.

Thousands of miles away in the United States, a phone call to another National Geographic Fellow resulted in one of many miracles brought on by ASMP volunteers, board members and friends who scrambled to answer the emergency. Star Tides, and consequently, Solar Stik, Samaritan’s Purse, DHL, and other organizations came together with remarkable energy and focus on behalf of a remote region in Africa and the strangers who call it home. In a matter of days, the clinic was bigger, brighter, and badder than we’d ever dreamed.

The village and its modern clinic are a testament to what can happen when a positive vision is shared and embraced – even when it appears that all is lost. We at ASMP, and the people of the Sudd region of South Sudan, will forever be indebted to Star Tides, a conduit to the most awesome players on the team of global relief.

Roots of a New Threat

With that said, amid the joy and hope that’s been bestowed on Old Fangak through the construction and opening of the new clinic, a darkness looms. Ever expanding on the horizon, black and creeping with tendrils reaching, are the ominous clouds of war, delivering in a heartless grasp wounded soldiers and civilians. Many have already arrived, suffering the ravages of battle&#8212mostly gunshot and shrapnel wounds. The ceasefire of January 23 gives hope, but tension is still thick in the air.

Within the last several weeks, first through photos and emails from Dr. Jill, as well as messages from Dave and Jason, our guys on the ground in the village and in Nairobi, then later via international news reports, we learned of this new violence exploding in South Sudan. Little is known about the conflict. We know that differing visions for the future of this young nation have created more turmoil between two already warring tribes, the Nuer and the Dinka. After the historical election in 2011 of President Kiir, who is Dinka, and his Vice President Machar, of the Nuer, stresses became insurmountable. As a result, in July of 2012 the two parted ways and in December, fighting broke out between Kiir’s national army, the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army), and supporters of Machar, now known as The White Army.

Beyond the Battlefield, Disease Remains

It’s a sad state of affairs. A decades-old civil war there had finally ended, gaining independence for millions, and forging the birth of this new nation, South Sudan. It has been clear that the negative effects of the previous war will take generations to overcome, but now, embroiled in this new conflict, there is no end in sight. Beyond the reintroduction of violence and its casualties in South Sudan, in Old Fangak there is Kala-azar, the disease Dr. Jill has been laboring for years to eradicate. It returns in full force each year with the hatch of the sand flies. On top of that is a Malaria outbreak. The struggles faced by the Sudanese are incomprehensible by many Americans and witnessing their strength and faith challenges us to rise and meet each day with drive and determination as the sun breaks on the far horizon.

Yet regardless of how impassioned we are to complete our mission there the safety and well-being of the team remains our primary concern, so in response to speculation that the conflict might shut down travel out of South Sudan, we were compelled to pull our ASMP staff and volunteers from Old Fangak. However, Dr. Jill is not easily intimidated and she has already returned to the village. To her surprise, the continuous influx of refugees in Old Fangak has driven the usual population of Old Fangak, typically around 1500, to about 10,000. She barely recognizes the landscape as it now plays host to so many new faces. Yet there is a smile in her report. She hears laughter all around her and she knows that for now, these weary IDPs (internally displaced persons) feel safe. Dave has also returned and Dr. Jack, another physician from Alaska, is headed back over as I type.

In the following photos you see images of life as it’s never been for the people of Old Fangak, South Sudan. The ASMP team has delivered several sources of clean water to this place that has not seen clean water in decades, and thanks to the generous help of Solar-Stik, a state-of-the-art solar power system is now in place.

(Photo courtesy ASMP)
(Photo courtesy ASMP)
(Photo courtesy ASMP)
(Photo courtesy ASMP)

This last photo provides confirmation that our presence is making an epic difference. I’ll apologize for the low image-quality but what you see in this shot is truly remarkable. Inside our new clinic, over an injured man who is a random victim of the war, are women praying for him. The women are Nuer and they are Dinka. For the well-being of this man, Dinka and Nuer women have come together to pray. In this gesture, there is hope.

(Photo courtesy ASMP)
(Photo courtesy ASMP)

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Meet the Author

Jon Waterhouse
Jon Waterhouse’s destiny was foretold the moment he pushed his canoe off the bank of the Yukon River and started to paddle. That incredible 2007 canoe trip, which he christened “the Healing Journey,” began with a simple request by the native elders and tribal leaders living in the Yukon River watershed to "go out, take the pulse of the river." Waterhouse’s journey raised awareness of the importance of environmental stewardship, combined traditional native knowledge with modern science, and helped rebuild intimate connections between Yukon communities and the natural world. The journey soon stretched far beyond the Yukon and led the Native American down rivers and through cultures in distant parts of South America, Russia, Greenland, Africa, and New Zealand.