New Hope for Old Fangak
Posted: on March 27, 2013
By Judith Dupuis & Paul Beck
A cluster of villages along a tributary of the Nile River, Old Fangak in South Sudan is impossibly remote. Access is by river barge, which must negotiate a complex maze of channels, ponds and tributaries in order to bring supplies to the 35,000 inhabitants. Even then, supplies are only brought in for the few who have cash or anything of worth to trade. With little access to education or medical provision, life in the bush that surrounds Old Fangak centres upon one objective; survival.
In one small village next to the river there is an airstrip which MAF uses to being in medical supplies and workers. The importance of this lifeline is critical. In 2011, the surrounding communities suffered short-lived flooding followed by a period of drought. When the unusually small crops of sorghum came up, an infestation of rats devoured nearly everything, leaving the people in a desperate state. The airstrip is too short for the World Food Programme’s aircraft to land, so in partnership with Medair and the Alaska Sudan Medical Project, MAF flew in food supplements and medicine.
The incidence of snakebite victims and medical evacuations is more prevalent in Old Fangak than anywhere else that MAF aircraft serve in South Sudan. Snakebites are an ugly sight. MAF fly victims to Leer for treatment where Medicins Sans Frontieres operates a surgical hospital. In some cases, lives have only been saved through amputation of the bitten limbs. “I was struck by the stoicism of a nine year-old boy that we flew to Leer for treatment,” begins MAF Pilot Michael Dupuis. “The boy was smiling and in good spirits when he arrived with his mother at the aircraft. He had never been in an airplane before, although I am quite sure that he was one of the many children who greet the aircraft every time we land there. When we were lifting him into the aircraft, this boy’s foot was a putrefied mess of flesh falling off bone.
The blanket that he was carried in was covering this hideous sight from our other passengers and I wish that I had not seen this tragic affliction. Despite knowing that he would be losing part of his leg, he was still a boy excited to go flying and thinking about little else! I have carried several such snakebite victims and also provided a medical evacuation for a young man with a basketball-sized tumour on his knee.
Even one of the doctors serving in Old Fangak has needed to be flown out for medical reasons. Without the aircraft for transportation and without the care of so many dedicated medical teams working for MSF, Medair and Dr. Jill, the possibility for many of these people to physically survive would be nearly impossible,” Michael surmises.
Several other organisations serve the people of Old Fangak. MAF personnel draw strength from the fact that this includes groups like the the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, who are actively involved in evangelistic ministries. Taken together, this combined assistance is bringing hope in a place where it is in particularly short supply.