2018 Christmas Annual Lunch

On 17 December we held our annual Christmas lunch for volunteers and trustees at the Seven Kings in Dunfermline –  see photos below.

 

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.

Volunteering in a developing country

Volunteering in a developing country: help or hindrance?

To volunteer – to offer one’s services without compulsion or financial recompense – is seen as a commendable activity which enriches both the volunteer and the one(s) who receives; the charity shops which have become so much of a feature of British high streets, for example, could not function without volunteers. But without dampening the spirit of volunteerism, it is always pertinent to ask:

For whom am I doing this? Is it ‘just’ for my ego? Who is benefitting? Can I make a positive contribution to improve somebody else’s situation-is my support appropriate?

Such questions are especially relevant when considering volunteering in a developing country.

A short period spent in Nepal some years ago led me to more deeply ponder these issues, and in my case especially to examine the assumption that skills and training gained in one setting are necessarily appropriate in another. Even before I retired from medical practice, people often made remarks along the lines of: ‘Gosh, – with your qualifications and skills, you have so much to offer to the third world’.  ‘Your experience will always be needed!’

While perhaps being on one level flattered, I doubted whether a Western trained GP, familiar with the diseases of civilization but lacking in practical skills, would be an asset in a developing country. But before finally putting my stethoscope away in the drawer (or donating to a charity shop), I wanted to clarify this point for myself, and so in December 2011, I was on my way to Nepal.

Why Nepal?

Kathmandu capital of Nepal

At the time when I was considering how and where to combine medical volunteering with some adventure, I made the acquaintance of a couple who were missionaries to Nepal, and from this fortuitous meeting developed the decision to make this country my destination. Here on the border with Tibet, towers Sagarmatha (peak of heaven), the great Everest, and although I never entertained the notion of scaling the summit, the prospect of trekking in the Himalayas was attractive. My initial idea of joining an expedition as a medical provider was dispelled by the uneasy consideration that I just might need medical attention myself, and so I decided to join an expedition in the normal way and to follow that by a stint of volunteering in a hospital.

I am proud to say that I did not require medical attention,  although without support, encouragement and sometimes challenge from our team leader, I doubt I would have made it – extreme altitude and exhausting days of trekking certainly pushed me to my physical limits. But ‘no pain, no gain’ and all the effort was rewarded by spectacular views of Everest and other 8000 meter peaks from Kala Patar, itself at an altitude of 5400m.

Our intrepid group with Everest (peak on the left) in the background

I recuperated for a few days in Kathmandu before heading for Nepal’s border with India in the south. Chitwan is about 160 km from Kathmandu, but the journey takes over six hours by bus. These photos give a certain idea of why this is the case.

Van stuck in mud

Motorcyclists in town

The roads in Nepal are appalling-and not only that but donkeys, carts, children are liable to loom up in front from nowhere. Not surprisingly, the road traffic accident statistics are sobering. And as the bus made its way along the main ‘highway’ between Kathmandu and Chitwan, I was reminded of something I had been taught at an expedition medicine course: the most dangerous aspect of an expedition is the travelling to and from airports.

Chitwan hospital is a busy general hospital, built only in 2008, with 500 beds and staffed by about 50 doctors. The staff are almost all Nepalese, and the young doctors trained mostly in China or India: both countries vie for the favors of Nepal. English is well understood and used by the medical staff, much less so by the patients.

The Chitwan hospital

I was a bit of an oddity; the other volunteers were either students or just beginning their careers, and the young doctor who was allocated as my mentor was obviously having a very hard time with me. Eventually he blurted out ‘I’ve never dealt with such an old lady doctor before!’ Well, could I really be insulted? I had already become used to stares on the streets, which I naively attributed to the fact that I stood out as a non-Nepali native. But it was not until one shopkeeper bluntly remarked-‘Nepali women your age just don’t do this kind of thing!’, that I understood more deeply what was going on. Nepali women my age are very old-they look old, the life expectancy is under 70, and they are most certainly not to be found jaunting around the world. 

Anyway, once we had straightened that out, and he reckoned that I might have a sense of humor and be humble and willing to learn, we were able to establish a reasonable working relationship. Pretty soon I realized that my best strategy would be to shadow the doctors and to observe; from the outset I felt that the word volunteer was a misnomer because the hospital was quite adequately staffed and what one could do as a non-Nepali speaking individual was very limited.

The author alongside other doctors

We know that the general economic situation and social circumstances have a great bearing on the prevalence and presentation of disease, and in a country such as Nepal, this is well demonstrated.

Good indicators of health are statistics about life expectancy, as well as infant and maternal mortality. I touched on life expectancy earlier in relation to my own age: were I a Nepali woman, I’d be lucky to live another 5 years.
In the obstetrics clinic, the consultant told me that Nepal was doing well in terms of maternal mortality and morbidity; true in the sense that great improvements have been made in recent years, but the country still lags far behind our own. Figures from 2015 show a maternal mortality of 248/100,000 in Nepal. Corresponding figures for the UK and Germany are 9 and 6 respectively.

The leading cause of death is pulmonary disease (excluding tuberculosis) and most of this is COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in Germany and the UK, comes second.
Smoking is a huge factor-unfortunately where smoking is becoming less fashionable and acceptable in the West, the cigarette companies have targeted new markets in developing countries with devastating results. Another contributing factor is the burning of fuels from indoor fires, to which the women have greater exposure.

A man beside an indoor fire

And of course, the general low standard of sanitation-lack of clean running water and proper waste disposal are factors in the high rate of infectious disease.

Rubbish lying in the street

In all clinics the lack of privacy was unsettling. Most of the consultations were in public rooms, and before one patient encounter was over, the next patient would be hovering over the desk.  And this was the case even in the psychiatry clinic where (presumably-the conversations were in Nepalese) the most intimate details were being shared. The diagnoses were pretty consistent with those in the West-depression, bipolar, schizophrenia along with a large number of miscellaneous neuroses.

The suicide rate in Nepal is not insignificant – people do not throw themselves in front of trains since there are none, neither do they use firearms for the same reason, but a popular method of self destruction is ingestion of poisons – especially those which bring about a slow and agonizing death, such as various fertilizers and fuels.

I think this brings us to an interesting consideration: we in the west tend to have and romantic notions about ‘Eastern spirituality’. Countries like Nepal we associate with a higher level of inner peace than our own, fuelled by images of prayer flags, temples, chanting monks, etc. We assume that life is simpler, uncontaminated by the pressures of civilization and therefore less stressful.

The local church

This is a misleading picture. Life in an underdeveloped country is harsh, and whether because of unhappiness about their external or internal situations, a significant number choose the ultimate escape. Alcoholism and drug abuse are also problems, reflected in the high level of liver disease, especially since much of the alcohol consumed is home brewed and very toxic.

An incident in the pediatrics clinic brings me back to the questions I posed at the start.
Once during our ward round, the door suddenly burst open and in poured about six Americans brandishing cameras- they were really stereotype Americans- who proceeded to comment on the patients and snap photos. I was horrified and glanced at the ward sister who shared my reaction but was too intimidated to protest. And so I took it in hand to point out the rudeness of their actions and ask them to leave, which they did-looking only mildly apologetic.

This is Western volunteer ‘tourism’ voluntourism at its worst. This kind of behavior epitomizes something which has sadly not died out with the old Colonial days-the attitude that we from the civilized world are of course superior, and we know best. Many, especially career starters, see volunteering as a means to do what you couldn’t do at home, a short cut to gaining experience. Or there is a prevailing attitude-‘well at least what I am doing is better than nothing-they should be grateful!’ Why do we need to explain and ask consent?’  But we really need to examine these assumptions and consider whether a much better perspective might be to invest in and promote local training and competence.


I certainly do not want to give the impression that volunteering in a developing country is a useless act of misplaced idealism or even selfishness. There is nothing wrong with the expectation of personal benefit from volunteering; no one does anything in order to have a bad experience. But whether an expert in one’s field or simply a good-hearted novice, it is essential to keep in mind and adhere to a few basic principles:

  • Have a clear idea of your own capabilities and limitations. Keep a humble attitude – be willing to learn
  • Know and respect the local situation.  Suggestions for improvement may be inappropriate or unworkable under local conditions.

  • Take care of your own health!

For me, the time in Nepal closed the book, so to speak on my clinical career and finally laid rest any thoughts I may have had about using my medical background as a third world volunteer or expedition doctor.  Now when anyone remarks that I have skills and talents that I should be using for the less fortunate in other countries- I can simply smile knowingly.
An anesthetist, surgeon or obstetrician can contribute a great deal in a developing country, but what a GP without knowledge of the local language can offer is very limited.

And there are many ways to volunteer and support the less fortunate; my brief intermittent stints behind the counter in the (sadly now closed) Sunrise Africa relief shop in Dunfermline brought me great  enjoyment and perhaps contributed as much to the projects in Zambia as my physical presence there would have done.

Catriona Valenta can be contacted via FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/catriona.valenta

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.

Update from Lesotho on knitting donations

We’ve just received a note from Darkwell Sakalaat in Lesotho after receiving knitting from us, which was kindly made by three ladies in Dunfermline who knit for Africa. Read the report below from Darkwell who’s based in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho.

THE DONATION FROM SUNRISE AFRICA RELIEF

Last Tuesday morning the Lesotho representatives met with the PR of the Main Hospital in the capital city of Maseru know as Queen Mamohato Memorial hospital (Tsepong) with whom we introduced our organization as well as Sunrise Africa Relief, We spoke of the previous donations we received how we dealt with them and our plan concerning the recent donation we received. She spoke of four of the hospitals that are under the main hospital which provide free medical service to the low income people in the communities.

Further to that, she requested we meet the Nursing Manager of the Children’s ward – Birth Section with whom we continuously discussed about the donation. Upon our discussion she made a report to the Head of their department who fully agreed for us to make the donation as most of the babies there are of severe cases (premature, malnourished or infected etc.

Today Friday August 3, 2018 was the date given for us to make the donation. We donated the baby hats and jerseys today. The Nurse Manager of that Unit spoke of the plan she has for the package, which is to use the donation for the hospital since the hospital does not have much resources and give the jerseys to the neediest since the hospital runs low on most of the things needed in the maternity Unite. Apart from that she spoke again of the problems they are facing now which are Temperature control for small babies, no enough bedding’s and so for that you know Lesotho is 100% above sea level.

In addition this donation was given to the critical side of the maternity ward, a ward for new born babies. This donation did make a huge change, made people happy both the patients and the nurses as well as us. We are grateful for Sunrise Africa Relief for making Lesotho live again after it has been in slumber for a long time.

Darkwell Sakala

 

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.

Shazia Nadeem’s presentation at fundraising dinner 17th June 2018

A PDF of the presentation given by Shazia Nadeem at the fundraising dinner on 17 June 2018 is available to view.

Read more about the fundraising dinner.

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.

Steff Williamson completes half marathon in Washington DC

Steff Williamson successfully completed the Washington DC half marathon on the 24th June 2018 despite very hot and humid weather.

Running on behalf of Sunrise Africa Relief he raised over $1,160 from sponsors around the world.

The money raised will go towards Barlastone Park School which is situated in one of the poorest districts of Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia.

You can still donate to Steff via Just Giving here:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stephan-williamson2

The Trustees would like to thank all sponsors for their generous donations.

 

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.

Fundraising at Dunfermline Gala day

On the 23rd June 2018 three volunteers from Sunrise Africa Relief held a fundraising table at Dunfermline Gala day. Eileen, Heidrun and Robert on a very sunny day at the top of the glen raised just under £300. These funds will help support Barlastone Park School on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia in one of the poorest districts of the capital city. This will help towards renovation of the classrooms and books for the library.

The Trustees would like to thank the members of the public who supported the charity and gave so generously.

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.

Sunrise Africa Relief completes the Tough Mudder challenge

On the 16th June 2018 in Dumfries, Sunrise Africa Relief participated in the 15km Tough Mudder Challenge race.

Our team consisted of 5 members, Eric, Michael, Ailidh, Chucks and Russell. All had trained vigorously for the event, which consisted of a 15km run interspaced with challenges of mud, ropes, ice, walls, pyramids etc. Success could only be achieved with effective team work – which proved to be the case on the day with the team as they successfully passed all the obstacles.

The weather added an extra challenge with rain, hail, lighting, and sunshine. In fact, there was a sign up saying that the Tough Mudder Challenge is never cancelled because of weather!

So far the team has raised over £1,200 in online donations which is going towards the development of Barlastone Park School in one of the poorest districts of Lusaka in Zambia.

The Trustees would like to really thank the team for their effort and participation to make the event and the day a great success.

Images

Videos

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.

Report from fundraising dinner held in Stirling

Sunrise Africa Relief held a fundraising dinner with MAP (Medical Aid for Palestinians) at the Stirling Albert Halls on 17th June 2018.

The event involved two charities working together to bring people across Scotland and England to share an evening and to learn more about the plight of Palestine and Africa.

All proceeds went to support the work of Sunrise Africa Relief and Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Mrs Christine Simpson the Provost of Stirling gave the welcoming address, followed by the keynote address from Professor Graham Watt CBE on “The Barriers for Health in Palestine”. This was followed by Ms Susan McGill, Councillor for Stirling Council, who discussed “On Supporting People”.

Dr Ishaq Abu-Arafeh, the chairman of the planning committee, did an excellent job outlining the purpose of the event and ensuring the evening ran on time, while mixing with the guests to make sure everyone was having a good experience.

Sunrise Africa Relief had three speakers. Mr Robert Williamson, co-founder and trustee, first gave a brief introduction of the charity – how it was founded in 2014 and currently has active projects in Zambia and Uganda. He then introduced Mr Aftikhar Ahmed as the other co-founder and the one who took the initiative to hold this event. Mr Ahmed received an overwhelming cheer of appreciation from the guests for his charity work.

Mr Paul Currie, another trustee, spoke on the principles of the charity and the importance of two faith groups working together. He also stated there is need everywhere and that it transcends religious, culture, and ethnic differences.

Mrs Shazia Nadeem, an ambassador for the charity, spoke on her personal experiences in Africa and her participation in the projects, in particular Uganda and Zambia – including an encounter with a crocodile!

Two music groups performed, Camile Nehme from Palestine and The Afros band from Africa. Both groups were received well and managed to get the audience dancing!

Sunrise Africa Relief raised over £683 with online donations still being received.

The Trustees would like to thank all the committee members and all those who attended and contributed to make the evening so enjoyable and successful.

Video of one of the bands:

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.

David Livingstone

‘I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forwards’
David Livingstone

Blantyre is a small town, a mere few miles ‘upstream’ on the Clyde from my hometown of Glasgow. But my first visit took place only many years after I had left my childhood home, inspired by a silent resolve made in the far distant land of Zambia in 2013.

Our travelling group beside Victoria Falls in raincoats

As I stood with a small group in the heart of Africa, at the spot where David Livingstone died on May 1st, 1873, I determined to visit the town where he had been born two hundred years before-2013 marked his bicentenary. In his relatively short life of 60 years, he had greatly increased the then current knowledge about ‘the Dark Continent’, and fuelled by his Christian faith had made a significant contribution to ending the slave trade.

As I reflected silently, I could not but feel humbled by the courage, faith and vision of my fellow country-man.  
In order to be able to travel to Africa, the tourist has certain obstacles to overcome, but faced with the hazards and dangers confronting David Livingstone almost two hundred years ago, all but the most courageous and intrepid modern adventurers would decline the challenge.

Livingstone possessed the necessary courage as well as persistence and endurance – surely to a certain extent inherited from his deeply religious parents, but also fostered by the long hours of tedious, painstaking work in his father’s cotton mill which he undertook from the age of ten.

The young David had aspirations beyond the mill, and whereas his father saw science as undermining religion, David felt that the two could be reconciled, and persuaded his parents to allow him to study medicine at the then Anderson’s college in Glasgow. His initial desire was to be a medical missionary to China, but the First Opium war thwarted that ambition, and encouraged by his future father-in-law, Robert Moffat of the London Missionary Society, he turned his sights on Africa.

Not only did he believe in the compatibility of science and religion, he appears to have also cherished the belief that his thirst for exploration and discovery could be a foundation on which to further the ideals of his Christian faith. His hope was that the opening of routes for commercial trade would displace those used for slavery, and that any fame and recognition he accrued could contribute to the demise of that abominable practice. This was indeed the case.

 Although he was unable to realize his ambition to discover the source of the Nile, he was, in 1855,  the first ‘Westerner’ to set eyes on the magnificent water spectacle which we know by the name he gave it-‘the Victoria Falls’- in honour of the then reigning monarch in Great Britain.

Livingstone was fortunate that his wife, Mary Moffat, was like him, a committed Christian and an intrepid woman who accompanied him on some of his missions in Africa, even giving birth to two of their six children in the Kalahari desert. But balancing missionary work and family has never been an easy task, and Livingstone’s work in Africa came at great cost to his family. They were separated for long periods of time; Mary suffered from poor health and died in her early forties of malaria while trying to support her husband’s mission.

Livingstone also succumbed to malaria and dysentery, and died at Chief Chitambo’s village of Ilala in what is now Zambia. His heart was buried there, and the rest of his remains, along with his diary, were carried by two of his faithful attendants to eventually be interred in Westminster Abbey, London. 

We can always be moved, inspired and motivated by the lives of people who have made a global impact, but not everyone can leave the kind of legacy that Livingstone did.

Perhaps at this point we can remind ourselves that each one can make an impact in his or her field of influence; Livingstone reportedly expressed great regret at the end of his life that he had not spent more time with his children.

A plaque dedicated to David Livingstone

Statue of David at Victoria Falls

Catriona Valenta can be contacted via FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/catriona.valenta

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.

Website Refresh

Robert abd DonaldWe’ve just updated the website with a design refresh and new features – with web developer Donald MacAlpine – so expect more content and refinements in the coming months.  Please send us any feedback you have.

 

Dear Visitor

We rely on donations to continue funding projects in Africa and the UK. Sunrise Africa Relief chooses carefully areas where your donations can make a real impact whilst providing strict oversight to ensure those needing our help receive it. So, you can be assured your donation will be used towards a good cause. We would greatly appreciate any donations you can make. Thank you.