Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

March 14, 2009

Back to Africa

I met a family that has been missionaries in Kenya for about 20 years last summer while I was on furlough in the US. They work for a missions hospital in western Kenya, which also has a community health outreach, which does some similar work to what I’ve done in Uganda through the years. Since the only work I did in Kenya was a 3 week mobile medical clinic with a team in 1998, I was not aware of some of the differences in medical work there and here in Uganda, which adjoins Kenya.

Since all of my medical work here has been in training volunteers in one way or another, I was very interested to learn from these Kenyan missionaries how volunteerism in Kenya is not hard to accomplish. But they said that as soon as their workers cross over into Uganda, it’s a whole different story. Uganda has been a war-torn nation and thus has been inundated with NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations) and other relief agencies. So people have learned a dependent life style in many cases, with a sense of entitlement that says because they’re poor, they deserve outside help. This has lead to loss of productivity due to loss of incentive. So people a re not interested in volunteering, doing something for free.

As we have struggled with faith ministries that don’t have budgets including payrolls, we have trusted God to bring us people who share the same passion for our work that we do. But we know that if you dig through enough sand and stones, you can find gold and diamonds if you’re in the right area! So we dig and keep digging…

Our major volunteer ministry has been our Samaritan Emergency Volunteer Organization (SEVO), training rescue workers. SEVO has 3 phases of training, 1) Basic First Aid, 2) First Responders, and 3) Emergency Medical Technician. These are taught from the perspective of people not having technology at their fingertips, so they learn how to use local materials they can easily find at hand. This includes things like tree branches for splints, torn fabric (shirts, petticoats) for bandages, plastic bags for gloves. This has led to some very creative rescues, such as the following story:

In the town of Mbale, on the eastern border with Kenya, there is a hospital that services a huge area of the country. People travel afar to come there for services, but often the travel exhausts meager funds. So there is a porch around the hospital where people sit and beg for money to hopefully get their treatment.

SEVO was just beginning to open the way to do some trainings in the Mbale district, so members from a neighboring district joined in a holiday parade in Mbale town. While there, they encountered a mother from a far northern district with a small child who had an infected foreign object in the nose. As is typical of many toddlers, the boy had pushed something up his nose that didn’t come out, and there were no nearby services to treat him and remove the object. The mother brought him to the hospital only to be turned away because she had no money for treatment there either. She was weeping when the SEVO members found her.

They took her to a nearby small clinic where one of the SEVO members then, for lack of an instrument to extract the object from the boy’s nose, placed his mouth over the boy’s mouth, and began to blow! No surprise, things got pretty nasty, but to everyone’s amazement, the man continued to blow until the foreign object came out, and both he and the toddler were cleaned up.

I was so amazed when I heard this story, so I asked how this man thought to treat this boy in such a manner… He’d been taught that when doing CPR, when you do mouth to mouth to blow air into a victim’s lungs, you must pinch the nose to prevent air from escaping through it rather than going into the lungs. So he reasoned that if he did not pinch the child’s nose closed, the air would blow through the nose, forcing the object to come out… and he was right!

Much suffering can be alleviated by such people with such training. But the reluctance to volunteer, partly caused by poverty and partly by the dependency mentality, hinders people’s involvement. Many take the SEVO training, but when they don’t end up with a paycheck (in spite of the word “Volunteer” in the name!), they don’t utilize it.

This past year SEVO Director Hannington Sseruga has been focusing his training on the highway between Mbale and Kampala. As with all the major highways in Uganda, the accident and death rate is appalling, so his goal was to train along this entire route, especially focusing on the “black spots,” areas of exceptionally high rates of fatalities. And as always, he’s been digging for those diamonds that we know have to be out there, working to raise up leaders with the same passion for the lives and souls of their fellow man that he has. And over this past year, with God’s help, he has raised up 7 strong leaders, who are taking over much of the SEVO trainings in Uganda, enabling Hannington to finally be able to act as a director rather than full-time trainer. Two of them are new Christians, having accepted Jesus as personal savior in the SEVO ministry under Hannington, one a former Muslim, the other a Catholic. The other 5 are Muslims. Hannington has also begun further leadership and spiritual training with these 7 by teaching them inductive Bible study, starting with an in-depth study of the Good Samaritan story, after which SEVO is patterned.

After Hannington did a brief 3-day First Aid training last year for another agency in Kyenjojo, western Uganda, a man there desired further training. So he traveled at his own expense across to eastern Uganda (maybe 200 miles) to join a current class Hannington was doing, and he took the full First Aid class (2 weeks). And he requested that trainers come back with him to Kyenjojo to do the training there to more people.

It is my joy to share a huge milestone, a first in SEVO’s 5 year history. Our 7 leaders, by their own creativity and through the trainings they were already doing in their local areas, raised enough money on their own, to send 3 of them over to Kyenjojo to do 2 weeks of Basic First Aid training to the people there! They leave this weekend. Hannington will meet them there, helping them to do the proper interacting with local authorities, who must consent to any such activities in their communities, and then he will leave them there on their own to complete this training.

We have found some diamonds. These trainers come from one of the poorest sections of Uganda, and yet they trusted in Hannington’s encouragements to their faith, used their own creativity and incentive, and they are about to learn the blessings of doing volunteer work for God! God’s Word promises that when we give, He will give to us. Such verses are so often abused by get-rich-quick “ministries” in this day and age. But when our emphasis is upon giving, rather than getting, God is truly free to bless the works of our hands. And I look forward to the testimonies of these 3 trainers when they return from Kyenjojo!

Stay tuned…

Margaret Nelson

March 18, 2009

In my last newsletter, I ended by saying “Stay tuned” for further information on the SEVO training project in Kyenjojo, western Uganda. I did not plan on writing so soon, but because of a very interesting development, I decided to go ahead and send out another report, and to request prayer.

In Uganda, when you want to do any kind of work or ministry in a given area, you must go to the local authorities, explain what you desire to do, and obtain their permission. The man from Kyenjojo who had requested the SEVO trainers to come apparently had not done this. Hannington traveled with the 3 new SEVO trainers to Kyenjojo early Monday morning, to make sure they got a good start with this project. Not only are they new at what they’re doing, but this was a different tribe, different language, and also to a different level of society than they were used to working with. It seems that it was government health officials and doctors wanting the training, rather than the local, grass roots people. At some point in the recent past, another organization (???) had gone there, promising a seminar, took the people’s money, and fled with it. So the local folks were still angry about having been taken advantage of.

The guys got over to Kyenjojo and found that their permission had not been granted by the authorities as they’d been led to believe. And apparently those authorities would only grant it if a bribe was paid. Not only do our ministries not pay bribes, but Hannington and crew had no money anyway. So the previous students of Hannington’s and others who wanted the training got irate, began picking up stones, and were going to fight the police and officials.

It was about 7:00 PM when I happened to talk to Hannington on the phone, not knowing what was going on. I could hear loud voices in the background. Hannington was explaining their predicament. The phone connection was poor, he said they had no money, there was no public transportation available because they were “far out in the jungle,” and it was getting dark. Just before my phone ran out of time, he alarmed me greatly by saying that he was thankful the 3 new trainers were with him, because, “At least if we die, we die together!”

A friend visiting me, another missionary, and I immediately went to prayer, and she also prayed Psalm 91 for them. Then I sent text messages to various friends and relatives in the States and here to rally immediate prayer for the situation, figuring that would reach people faster than email (since it was only 5:00 AM PDST).

After I bought more air time for my phone, I called Hannington back about 8:30 PM Uganda time. All was quiet and he sounded calm. There had been no fight and the guys were safely in the home of one of his previous students about 3 km away from the site of the conflict. I learned later how God had intervened. Hannington had pleaded with the pro-SEVO faction. He’d told them that since he’d not received official permission to do the training, if anything happened, and particularly if people were killed, he would be held responsible and would go to prison. They calmed down and the fight did not take place. Praise God!

On Tuesday they all went to the police first, and then to a higher authority than the one which had refused the training. Both gave their blessings, and it’s my joy to report that the SEVO training is now in process ~ safely right next to the police department! Hannington is going to stay with the new trainers for a week to make sure they do well, and then he’ll head home, leaving them to finish the last week on their own. Local people have provided them with housing and food, a usual requirement of SEVO training, because it’s a faith ministry with no financial underwriting.

This has been an excellent learning experience for these new trainers, how they much carefully follow protocols. They are also Muslims, and knowing Hannington, he would have shared the Lord with them and prayed with them.

Please pray for the continued well-being and safety of our SEVO trainers, that God will lead and guide them, and give them heart to continue on with future trainings ~ even in tough areas!

Margaret Nelson