South Sudan is a country that is building up its infrastructure from a very low base. Facilities are few and trained staff are also very few. It is almost a case of , "where do we begin?", since the needs everywhere are so great. As with the government, so with the church. ABM's partner, the Episcopal Church of Sudan, is working to set up structures to deliver health and education services across its very wide network of dioceses and parishes that penetrate deep into the remote rural areas. Part of the process of setting up a viable church-run health service is to have a properly functioning Church Health Commission to oversee the health program, steered by an appropriately qualified Health Coordinator. Kwaje Charles Philip began work in January, 2012 as the Health Coordinator of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. This is his story.
My name is Kwaje Charles (Kwaje is my birth name and Charles my baptized name). I was born almost 30 years ago in the south-west of what is now South Sudan, in the town of Rwonyi, near Yei. It was during the long war, and things were very hard for my family. The year I began primary school was also the year that the war began in our land. As a young boy, soldiers often asked me to carry things for them, and I began to believe I would have no future if I remained in my village with my parents. So one day I decided to accompany a group of people from my village to try to meet up with my elder brother and family who were living in one of the camps in northern Uganda. My parents stayed in our village. I was twelve years old. First we crossed the border into Congo, and then walked east into Uganda, to the camp where we heard my brother had gone. I was sad to learn that my brother had died, but we met up with my brother's wife and her children there at the camp. I began to receive my education again at this camp.
But we found this camp was not safe. Many rebel groups were near the camp, including Lord's Resistance Army, and they regularly came to the camp at night to steal things. I would usually go with my sister-in-law and the others to hide each night to avoid the LRA raids, but on one particular night I was sick of this and thought maybe tonight they will not come, so I decided to remain in the camp to study. But unfortunately that night they did come. When I heard the LRA coming I became frightened and ran out into the bush, and I hid behind a termite mound. As I was hiding, I saw the LRA burning down a house metres away from me. I was terrified they would discover me in the light made by the fire. Luckily, they did not. We then decided to leave for a safer camp.
I was not able to be an official refugee at this time, since I was only a child, and I could not make the application. Life was difficult. But after one year I got refugee status. Then, one day someone came up to me to tell me I had been selected for a secondary school scholarship at a good Catholic boarding school in Uganda, paid for by a private charitable trust in the UK. There I studied 10 different subjects for my O levels and felt very stimulated to be exposed to so many different aspects of knowledge. Then I did my A levels at an Episcopal High School, also in Uganda.
At the age of 20 I was able to return to Sudan, in 2002. I commenced tertiary training in clinical medicine, a three year course, at the National Health Training Institute at Meridi with a scholarship from AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). When I graduated I had a one year internship at Yei Hospital. Then I worked for international NGOs, including a two year internship with Norwegian People's Aid, a year in medical logistics with the International Rescue Committee, and a year and a half with World Relief.
And now I have started working for the Episcopal Church of Sudan as the Health Coordinator. This is a challenging role, where I am charged with setting up basic health facilities in most of the ECS dioceses over a number of years, according to a strategic plan which has been approved by the Church Synod. As well as making sure the facilities are built strategically, I have responsibility for ensuring they are appropriately staffed and run well, to the best standards and according to government health policy. These health facilities will have a community outreach program that will deliver services such as vaccinations, basic health care, basic treatments and preventions, as well as community health education.
Kwaje has an exciting and challenging time ahead of him. Please pray for him and for others working to develop and rebuild health care systems and facilities within the many dioceses of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.
Dr Julianne Stewart