The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Norwich man helps set up clinic for Rohingya refugees 

A Norwich man has spent Christmas helping international relief organisation Samaritan’s Purse set up an emergency diphtheria clinic in Bangladesh to serve Rohingya refugees. 

Norwich-based humanitarian and aid worker Eldred Willey flew out on December 22 and the clinic, located on a piece of scrubland, opened its doors on New Year’s Eve. An experienced aid worker, who was part of the procurement team, Eldred describes what they did.

Samaritan's Purse was responding to the tragic Rohingya crisis which, since August, has seen some 650,000 refugees flooding across the border from Myanmar, fleeing ethnic cleansing. At least 6000 have died at the cruel hands of the Burmese army, and many of those who escaped arrived famished, with just the clothes on their backs.

In 1982, the government of Myanmar declared the Rohingya to be stateless non-citizens, and the United Nations have since described them as “the most persecuted minority in the world”.

Most of the Rohingya refugees have settled in the huge Kutupalong camp, where half a million souls now jostle together in overcrowded and insanitary conditions. Black and orange plastic shacks with sparse, shallow latrines make a perfect breeding ground for epidemics.

One of the first to strike was diphtheria – a serious bacterial disease affecting the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. The invading microorganisms restrict breathing and sometimes drop down into the lungs where they cause inflammation. So far Kutupalong camp has seen 2,500 people infected and 27 deaths. Three-quarters are under 15 years old.

For ten days Samaritan's Purse staff worked from dawn to dusk to create a top-quality medical facility right in the refugee camp. As there was no airlift during this period, we had to source all supplies in-country.

The nearest large city being five hours away, this was quite a challenge. Somehow the team scraped together oxygen tanks and airways, antibiotics and antihistamines, analgesics and tranquillisers, syringes and cannulas, gloves and gowns. It was a low-budget launch as staff begged, borrowed and persuaded people to part with the requisites.

The site team gave a morale boost to 100 Rohingya men by recruiting them as site labourers and setting them to work digging humanitarian-standard nine-foot latrines, hooking up a water bladder and pump, and connecting a generator.

With the clock ticking, staff created shelving out of tent boxes, and stripped wires with a pocket knife. Somehow the result outshone everything around in professional quality. Samaritans Purse is leading the way in bringing an effective medical response to a people in desperate need.

Scripture says that Christians are citizens of heaven, and nowhere adds that they have dual nationality. So they should feel a special affinity for the afflicted Rohingya, who find themselves in a similar stateless condition on earth.

Read our previous story on this topic.

Pictured top is a Samaritan's Purse medical facility in Bangladesh and, above, the Rohingya refugee camp. Pictures by Samaritan's Purse.

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