Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lindsey Reece-Smith in the Central African Republic

Many of you will know that for the past few weeks Lindsey Reece-Smith, who is a part of Kerith and works for Tearfund, has been out in the Central African Republic helping to coordinate the humitarian response to the crisis there (if you're not too sure what's going on there this BBC article gives a good overview). I asked Lindsey to write about what she's doing, and what we could pray for. This is what she said.

"I'm not sure if you can see the photo but I took it last week when I went to a meeting with Valerie Amos who is the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. It was held at the only posh hotel in the country and the luggage trolley was full of bullet proof vests and hard hats. It made me laugh. I just forget that it isn't normal to have 3 tanks filled with troops holding automatic weapons and machine guns at the end of the road!

It seems quite strange to be in a position where I am asked my opinion on letters going to the UN and whether I have anything to say about peace keeping forces and how they should be constituted. Also trying to sift through so many emails regarding peace and reconciliation, how the church can engage, and involvement of an inter faith Platform (Catholic Archbishop, Imam and President of the Evangelical Alliance). It is in many way a privilege to be involved and I have to hold on to the belief that God has put me here for a purpose and I can make things happen and bring them together.

The good news to report for this week is that we finally moved into the compound which will have the house and office. Not all the furniture has arrived, so the first night I had a mattress on the floor and we have been promised (for about the 6th time) that the dining table and desks/chairs for the office will arrive tomorrow. Our registration process is now at the point where the authorities need to come and check we have an office, so we need to set it up before they can check. We don't have any curtains yet so I am currently making good use of the eye mask from the plane, my room is at the front of the house and the security lights shine in all night.

I was woken at 6.30 this morning by the truck driver who had come in to repair a puncture. There was an awful lot of hammering against metal to get it fixed. We had a small house warming last night and in the middle there was a loud noise as the tyre suddenly blew. No one quite threw themselves on the floor with the sudden loud noise, but almost. It is good to be in the house, to have a kitchen to make drinks and an area where we can sit and relax in the evening. Team houses never really have comfortable furniture but they are definitely better than the hotel we were staying in.

The night before we left the hotel a group of Polish ex military arrived, they said they are here to get information about what they could do to help the Polish contingent who will be part of the EU forces being deployed. They appeared to be bodyguards for someone as well, but drank quite a lot and seemed to be very happy to drink and handle weapons at the same time. Definitely time for a quick exit. This week generally has been relatively calm, but with very volatile areas. I've had 4 security txts this morning and there was a major incident on Thursday when a couple of Muslims were killed and one decapitated. Roads were closed for a number of hours. The UN is also trying to evacuate 3 or 4,000 Muslims from a camp outside the city, into the city to give them greater protection. It will mean that the military airport camp that was winding down will now be filling up again. That site is near a couple of military bases and will give the best protection, though it is an unsustainable situation as people then get trapped into another small area.

I've spent a lot of this week focusing on obtaining information on a prefecture just outside of Bangui. There are not many agencies there, but the need seems really great. I would really like to visit to talk to some of the communities myself but it is a situation where it would be better to go and actually do a distribution of some kind, rather than just ask more questions. A number of assessments have been done by other agencies, including the UN, and I am hoping that this is where we can find a 'Tearfund shaped hole'. I had a meeting with the lead pastor of a network there this morning, and now this week I need to try and meet with a number of different government agencies. We need to get it right in terms of community involvement and consultation before we go any further. A couple of distributions have recently had to stop due to insecurity, and it has been suggested it was because they had only spoken to a couple of people before going. It all takes a quite frustrating amount of time.

Water trucking has had delay after delay, Monday the person we needed to see wasn't available, Tuesday the meeting kept being put back until the end of the day. Wednesday the bladders weren't available, Thursday they were but the supervisor to sign them off when we went to collect had gone home. We managed to get the platform built at one of the sites to hold the bladder. We collected the bladders Friday, then didn't have the right fittings, we got those Saturday and UNICEF said they might need them back for the influx of IDPs coming in from outside Bangui, we needed, different hoses, pumps, straps etc. But finally yesterday, Saturday we managed to deliver some water to a site who normally only get a small amount of water at the beginning and end of the day. Today, with all the equipment finally (hopefully) in place. The team have gone out to put a big bladder into a site with no water, set up all the connections and fill it. It has seemed like a mammoth task, with so many hurdles, to get things moving.

Staff wise things are starting to move, but it does mean I will need to stay longer to do a proper handover in country. I said I would rather stay and do the handover than leave and feel that the programme would lose any momentum. I will also stay on to host a media team (due to be confirmed on Monday). It depends on that visit whether I stay one week or two more. Today it seems like quite a mountain still to climb, but I'm sure a few good connections during the week will help me get going again. This week I have staff leaving and staff arriving, another week of transitions, briefings and trying to keep things moving forward. We've employed a cook and a couple of national staff which all helps to share the load and build up momentum. Do pray for all the right connections, for me to make sense out of all the information, possible partners, how to bring together work on trauma counselling, peace and reconciliation, accessing the right people and organisations to get gifts in kind for distributions, the right staff, applications to donors for funding and anything else you would like to add to the list!"

Please be praying for Lindsey,

Simon.

 

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