Circular - June 2013
The following report was written by Etta Halliday when she visited Acheru last August and went on our two monthly clinic run to Minakulu. Since then we have placed a permanent team there, and results from the first full month show such potential that we are already considering running rural clinics in remote areas, and may have to think about building an inpatient unit. I hope Etta’s words convey something of why we need to be there.
Brian Dorman

Phone, camcorder, camera and chargers? Tick. Books to relieve travelling boredom? Tick. Notebooks and pens, laptop and charger, torch, spare batteries? Tick. Padlock for case? Enough clothes to last at least four or five days without washing… and so my packing checklist goes on… telling the story of what I consider “essentials” for the trip.
A week later, and I’m on a bumpy, dusty road in northern Uganda. In the seat behind, trying to keep her balance as we lurch in and out of potholes is a mum, one arm wrapped round her toddler. Her luggage is wedged under the seat. It’s a large, multi-purpose washing up basin, its contents held in place by a knotted, well-worn sheet. As well as handling the washing up, the basin will be used as a sink for bathing and laundry too. She’s brought a spare dress for her little girl to wear while her only other dress is being washed; two garments and spare pants make up a full wardrobe that will last for weeks, maybe months. The worn remains of a bar of soap is tucked in beside a comb, a cooking pot, and small bags of beans and flour.
Packing is simple when you don’t have much to start with. I have so much, she has so little. I’m slightly embarrassed, hoping she’ll think the small rucksack I carry for this three-day clinic run is all I have.
We’re travelling together to Acheru in the company of 12 sweaty bodies and luggage squeezed into a 15 seater minibus for just over nine hours. It’s 30-something degrees outside. Inside, the open windows bring some coolness as we drive- as well as lots of red dust that coats faces, luggage, a crate of medical equipment , a generator and two fairly unhappy chickens. The birds were gifted by a very grateful mum when we stopped to check on her child’s progress since being discharged from Acheru several months earlier.
So why make such a long, uncomfortable journey? Why would these mums pack up their worldly goods and leave home for maybe weeks or months? The reason is clear when we arrive at our destination. As everyone clambers stiffly from the vehicle, there’s a child with a scarred, contorted fist from an untreated burn, another with a misshapen and ulcerated leg after a badly treated fracture; one with feet folded inwards and toughened and roughened skin on knees and ankles after several years of hobbling and crawling… and two new born babies with cleft lips and palates. Part of this month’s intake from the mobile assessment clinics near Gulu in the north. The others were better able to travel on the public bus with a nurse and their journey will take an extra three or four hours.
They’re all coming to Acheru because it's one of the very few places where they’ll find help. I’m being generous here – I haven’t yet heard of anywhere else in Uganda that offers such an amazing service. This purpose built unit may have just officially opened in October 2011, but Acheru’s dedicated Christian team has helped literally thousands of children since the work began on a previous site over a decade ago.
The commitment and love shown to these children is clear.
From here, the staff will bring the children to hospital for x-rays, assessments and surgery. At Acheru there’ll be daily dressings, nursing care and physiotherapy as necessary. Parents and children will have all accommodation and food provided for as long as this is “home”. Once well healed, well fed and strong again, the children will be brought back to their village and the staff will make regular visits to check their progress for a long time afterwards.
Visiting for the second time in a year, I’m struck yet again by how joyful a place Acheru is. Despite the assortment of crutches, wheelchairs, metal frames, plaster-casts, pinned bones and endless bandages, the children enjoy themselves here and there’s plenty of laughter. It’s a far cry from what they’re used to. In the village, their disabilities often make them curiosities or even embarrassments to their families. If the witch doctors are to be believed some of these little ones are the bearers of curses.
About half of the children will be from a Muslim background, yet the warmth of the welcome and the kindness of the staff means most parents are happy to join in with the fun of a visiting Sunday school class or with evening epilogues led by members of the local church. The message is clear: this is Christian love in action; every child is a gift from God, so they’re important and deserve our love and care and that belief is underlined in the unit’s name - Acheru – the Afaayo Child Health, Education and Rehabilitation Unit. In the local language, Afaayo means “God Cares” – something that is so very evident at Acheru.

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