On Monday our time with Hands at Work came to a close. As with each group, we had a de-brief with members of staff here, which included sharing our thoughts and experiences from the last 10 days.
On Tuesday, we spent time with Mercy Air, another Link for Life partner. Paul and Cathy Middleton are well known to many at Link for Life. They come from Walsall and came out to Africa for three years - 25 years ago! They have been working with Mercy Air for around 16 years.
Mercy Air provide support to those in need by flying in medical support, church groups and missionaries to the most inaccessible areas (mainly in and around South Africa and Mozambique). Every day is different for them as it depends on the needs at the time. They also provide accommodation at their base for those coming in from the mission field to debrief and/or for those who are having an early flight. Usually Link for Life groups stay there but due to it being full, we have stayed at the Hands at Work hub and commuted to them.
On Wednesday, we accompanied Cathy to a clinic on a banana plantation (not fair trade). Cathy also works for African School of Missions (ASM) who train nurses and provide medical clinics across the area. Link for Life teams have attended this clinic for some time but it has reduced in the number of patients recently as the plantation management have changed their policy for families of workers living on the land: so there are fewer people to serve. The last time some of us visited the plantation it was full of patients and there were over 30 children who had been left on the park while their parents were out working in the fields. Today there was only about 10 patients in total and only 2 children that had been left on the park. After some coaxing from her mother a third child did join us while her mum was seeing the nurses and it was quite emotional how long it took this child to come out of her shell. It was particularly emotional for some members of our team who had been before as they felt they had formed bonds with children that had now been sent home.
The morning was busy. We helped them set up their stations and cleaned the surrounding areas. The building that the nurses are based at is used as a pub in the evenings and was extremely dusty. Cathy explained that there was originally three stations: anti-natal, children and adults. Unfortunately, due to the change in circumstances they are now only down to two and it was hard to hear that due to the lack of patients it may have to go down to one. This is especially heart-breaking as many of the workers rely on this free medical care. We also heard many stories of the patients going to see witch doctors before seeing a qualified medical professional and in some cases this has dyer effects. Before the nurses start their day they always read some of the word to the patients and invite them to Jesus; after this initial start we were able to swap between playing with the children while their parents were being seen and sitting in some consultations including a neo-natal check and family planning.
As with Hands at Work and Mercy Air, ASM bring so much comfort to those in need and while they all provide individual services they add up to make a big difference.
Tomorrow we begin our journey home. We arrive back in the UK on Friday morning and are all looking forward to seeing friends and families. Each of us will take a different story, experience and memory from this trip and hope that when we return we will see that the hope provided by our partners continues to grow and help those in the most vulnerable places.