September 2014

Dr Edwin hands out certificates

Dr Edwin hands out certificates

The highlight of the last few months at the Christ Church Clinics has definitely been the Cairo Medical Conference, so ably and well organised by Dr Edwin Martin and supported by Dr Ehab of HOME, Dr Mike Davies and Dr Jon Day of PRIME and others, around the theme of ‘The Long Term Care of Chronic Disease’. This is a large and increasing part of the whole of medical care in the Middle East where good record keeping is fundamentally important. Clinics specifically related to eye care were included in the programme, as this is the main work of the Ras Morbat clinics currently. Lively and interactive teaching was delivered by surgeons and specialists from the UK and Egypt – including Dr Adel a senior consultant from the National Eye institute of Egypt who has operated and taught at the Christ Church Clinic on several occasions.

Attending the conference were not just the doctors from Ras Morbat, but a nurse, two technicians and a pharmacist – the whole team. A number from another medical facility in Aden also attended, and the conference has served to strengthen professional links between those working in the same city. Around 30 Egyptian doctors also attended the conference. Firm friendships and professional links have been made between Yemeni and Egyptian colleagues. The team came back buzzing from the conference and ‘over the moon’, in the words of Peter Crooks, to be able to access postgraduate education. The staff are keen to access further training in the future. As links between Egyptian medical professionals, such as Dr Adel grow, this is becoming a more concrete hope for the future.

The PyramidsBeside teaching sessions, delegates observed a live operation training session in a local hospital, a refugee clinic, a hospital with a new surgical training programme and of course … the pyramids! For many of the staff this was their first visit outside of Yemen and they made the most of it.

The staff commented in feedback that the conference was interesting, useful, motivating, relevant, refreshing, excellent… We are grateful to Dr Edwin for all his hard work in making the conference happen, and to those who generously hosted and funded it.

The conference has again highlighted the need and hunger for postgraduate training and supervision at the clinics. We long for Christian medical professionals to come and work alongside the Yemeni staff who work faithfully to keep the clinics running.

Since the last update a new opthalmic microscope has arrived and is being put to good use. The eye clinic continues to be busy, and with cateract removal operations being performed by the wonderful Doctors Randa and Tahani. Dr John Sandford Smith hopes to visit again later this year to operate further, and the Cairo conference has whetted the appetite of the staff for further training.
Dr Osmany and his wife
Dr Osmany (pictured above with his wife), an eye surgeon from Cuba who works elsewhere in Aden also provides key support to the Ras Morbat staff on a regular basis with the most complex cases.

Qat chewingThe situation in Yemen as a whole remains precarious. Recent fuel hikes have led to protests, especially in the capital. Al Qaeda seem intent on targeting the military. Aden remains relatively calm and we are grateful that daily life continues much as it has been for the staff and community around Christ Church.

Velvet & Vijaya John

Velvet & Vijaya John

The other exciting news from Christ Church is the recent appointment of the Revd T Velvet John as the Chaplain of Christ Church Aden and Director of the Ras Morbat Clinic.

Velvet, originating from the Diocese of South Kerala in the Church of South India, is currently Dean of Certificate, Graduate, and Postgraduate Studies for TAFTEE (The Association for Theological Education by Extension) and also Associate Pastor of St James, Bangalore, and an executive member of the Bangalore Medical Ethics Committee. He is married to the Revd J Vijaya John and they have two adult children.

We, alongside the staff at the clinics and the small, but faithful congregation look forward to his arrival in Yemen in November, prior to a licensing by Bishop Michael in December.

 

 

 

September 2013

Dear Friends,

We’d seen the wedding photos before, but sat captivated once again as they passed before us on the laptop on our kitchen table, where the bride and groom, Michi and Glynis, were seated beside us.  The bride, Nancy’s niece, was stunning and her dress remarkable – the lower part an exquisitely made white sphere, the top, the neatest pale-green bodice, while the groom in long frock coat, lace cuffs and black calf stockings looked both elegant and radiant. The wedding was in the lovely Austrian spa town of Bad Ischl. It was a very beautiful day and Peter conducted the wedding.

Happy Austrian couple

Also watching the wedding photos with us were two very great friends from Yemen; Dr Sameera, who worked in the Christ Church medical clinic some years ago and her lovely daughter, Ghoson, herself newly-engaged to a friend in Yemen and currently over in Britain doing a placement in a dental practice near Bristol.

Dr Sameera enjoying the beach
Ghoson tries her hand at bread making

When we’d seen the wedding photographs, we asked after Ghoson’s brother – a gifted and popular singer, and in his songs, an often articulate and outspoken commentator on Yemen affairs. Ghoson then went online and in moments we were transported from pictures of laughter and beauty to carnage and grief – to pictures of a parade ground in Sanaa (Yemen’s capital) where a few months ago one hundred young servicemen were killed at their graduation ceremony by a suicide bomber. The contrast between what we had just been watching and now saw could not have been greater. Interspersed with pictures of the bloodied parade ground and a few dazed survivors, were clips of Ghoson’s brother singing a passionate lament for those killed, along with a haunting refrain asking what possessed the mind of the youngster who had killed them. It was the turn of the bride and groom – shocked and stunned to ask questions of the pictures now on the screen. They entered as readily into the grief and horror as Ghoson and her mother had moments before entered into their joy.

There was a significant wedding in Aden too a week ago, that of Dr Tahani, one of our two young lady eye surgeons and Ahmed Soufi, eye technician, also at the clinic. We would have loved to have been there though in reality only Nancy would have been allowed to attend. We were told that it was very happy, and today we have news that Peter Welby, who spent time with us in Aden as our volunteer, has just got engaged, which is great. His fiancée, Jen, is lovely. Nigel Dawkins, who with his wife Catherine were our successors in Aden has, we have also just learned, been appointed to a post as a Canon on the staff of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, which is very good news.

In Sanaa, a much more lawless place now than Aden, the National Dialogue edges along. It is due to present its findings in two weeks’ time and to deliver a new constitution for the country. Ghoson has some young friends who are participating in it. Invited to join as young, intelligent and articulate representatives of the South and its concerns, they have found themselves quietly assigned to a dull committee dealing with transport …Despite this and other disappointments, Ghoson and her friends still hold out some hope for the Dialogue, but her mother, none. However, we did not spend all our time discussing Yemeni politics. As both mother and daughter had expressed interest in riding a train we took a ride on the magnificent Welsh Highland Railway through Snowdonia and concluded the day sitting in heather overlooking the beautiful Cregennan lakes above our home here in Dolgellau. We listened to the lapping of the waves and watched the sun sink behind the hills. Asked how she was, Sameera replied, “Just too happy.” Cregennan is a far cry from Aden’s refugees with whom her life is largely caught up.

Heather grows in Wales too

Welsh Highland Railway

In the last newsletter we mentioned the conversations going on with others on the council of reference for Christ Church and the clinics, about the future of the work, and in particular of the finding of new good personnel for both. The correspondence between us has been lively and positive. One suggestion made by several was that we try to establish a working relationship with a Christian medical charity in the region. That is happening. Two months ago Peter was invited, along with Dr Edwin Martin, who is on the council, with his wife Peta, to attend in Beirut a conference sponsored by HOME (Health Outreach to the Middle East) a fine Christian Arab medical foundation involved in supporting work in, amongst other countries, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and interested in getting involved in Yemen also. It was an inspiring and moving occasion, though we English participants had forgotten just how enthusiastic Egyptians and others are for long, late-night meetings …

Two weeks ago a young lady doctor from Egypt, sponsored by HOME, went to start a month’s placement at the medical clinic at Christ Church. It looks like a most promising development for which we are very grateful. Also coming out of our council dialogue was the suggestion that clergy, ideally not westerners, from across the diocese consider going to do short stints of a few weeks in Aden to encourage both the congregation and our local medical staff. It was a suggestion taken up conscientiously by Bishop Michael, who wrote putting the need to all the clergy. Three have already expressed a warm interest in going at different times over the next six months, which is wonderful.

A few weeks ago Yemen and Al Qaeda got brief, very high-profile attention in the western media. It angered many Yemenis, who saw the situation very differently to the way it was presented by CNN or the BBC. A Yemeni journalist wrote, ‘For many Yemenis – hunger, a lack of electricity and water scarcity are urgent day to day concerns. More than ten million people, almost half the country’s population, do not have enough to eat. Al Qaeda is seen by most as an obsession of foreign governments; attacks on oil pipelines occur on an almost weekly basis. The travel-alerts announced for Yemen have been in effect for years and the country has long witnessed the capture of foreigners.

The English Yemen Times even had a semi-comic but nonetheless quite chilling article in it entitled, ‘How to Kidnap a Foreigner.’ You can read the article in full HERE. The journalist concludes, ‘While foreign embassies have a responsibility for their own security, Yemen’s international supporters need to demonstrate clearly their commitment to be mindful of the harmful effect, that some counter-terrorism measures, like extensive drone strikes and over-flights in particular, have on Yemeni public opinion, and on the vital peace talks on which Yemen’s hopes for long-term change, rest.

Yemen, not Wales

We have included photos of the wedding and of Wales and hope you do not mind. We are short of new ones from Aden but will take more when next we return, hopefully later in the year – and after a move to Reading, which should take place very soon.

One or two kind friends have asked how the book, ‘Yemen: Heartbreak & Hope’, is going. The Greenbelt festival requested 20 copies for their book tent and a local heating engineer has just popped in here to buy a copy. In short, it continues ‘to go’. Reviews, apart from a slightly ambivalent one in the Church Times, have been most enthusiastic, one reviewer, who we thought might be particularly critical, describing it as ‘brilliant and beautiful’. It’s never too late to order (from lulu.com) and Peter promises to promote it no more.

We end with an e-mail received this week from the visiting Egyptian doctor mentioned earlier. ‘I like the clinic team, and have started to feel like they are my family. Today I went to Tahani and Ahmed’s wedding. The bride was very beautiful, the other girls too, and I enjoyed my time with them. Mr Mansour is doing a great job. He has a nice lovely family, and I have spent time with Ruba (his daughter) and her cousins. The clinic is going well, it has a good reputation. I like my patients too and also the accommodation is very good. I am blessed to share in this work.’  – So are we.

With our love and very best wishes in Christ.

Peter and Nancy


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Yemen – Heartbreak & Hope

Dear Friends

The title above sums up pretty fairly the condition of Yemen today – with the qualification that sadly, there’s probably more heartbreak than hope.

The following e-mail received two days ago from a western friend newly returned to work with refugees in Aden was, however, encouraging. “Aden is quieter, more settled and peaceful than at any time I can remember since January. No gunfire at night, no little zips of tracer fire – nothing. The tanks have gone, the road blocks have gone. People are busy – and the electricity is back to normal or better, and heat – it’s stinky hot at the moment.”

This morning Peter spoke to Mansour, the clinic administrator in Aden, who continues most conscientiously to hold the reins at Christ Church. He reported happily that both clinics are busy, the eye clinic seeing forty patients a day, which is about capacity.

Operating theatre without tiles
Operating theatre with new tiles (nearly)

A fortnight ago he phoned to report that a wall of tiles in the operating theatre had ‘got tired’ and slipped to the floor. They have since been put up and steps taken to make sure the theatre is better ventilated. He also told us of the soaring price of drugs, and in the same breath, of romance on the campus. One of our newly qualified eye doctors has got engaged to one of our eye technicians. Both are Yemeni and great workers. We are intrigued to know how the romance began.

On the wider front, Yemen’s relatively new, interim President Adrabbah Mansour Hadi faces awesome problems – political, economic and humanitarian. The friend from whose e-mail I quoted earlier wrote in it of grinding poverty and widespread hunger and of the country’s almost complete economic collapse. But the long and irresponsible rule of the previous President, Abd-al-Saleh is thankfully over and the dire prediction of the country’s descent into civil war have mercifully not been realised up to now.

We hope we shall be able to write more authoritatively on these things when we return to Aden for another short stint in a few weeks’ time. While there, we look forward to welcoming back Drs Adel Wahba from Egypt and Jihong from Korea for intensive bouts of cataract surgery and the further training of our own eye team. Bishop Michael is also due to visit, which is exciting.

Yemen - Heartbreak and HopeWe look forward to returning with our usual mixture of eager anticipation and apprehension! The last months at home have been good and we have enjoyed getting to know grand daughter Jessica better. Peter has finished writing the book whose draft cover page is shown here and which we hope will be published before the end of the year.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to you all for your continued encouragement and support of the ministry of Christ Church and the clinics. It is a good work.

God bless and keep you. With our love and best wishes,

Peter and Nancy

May 2012

cca may 2012 'Where 2 or 3 are gathered toghether'“Your calls,” said the voice on the phone from several thousand miles away, “are like a good injection in the arm.”

I could not ever recall having a good injection in the arm but Mansour’s experience has been a more positive one. Now we speak every week for a mutual ‘shot in the arm’ and update on the work of Christ Church and the clinics. We try to do this on the same day each week around 9 am local Yemen time, an hour or so into the working day. This started soon after our abrupt departure from Aden, about two months ago. We dispense with the usual extended Middle Eastern greetings – asking about each other’s welfare and that of our respective families when all other business has been completed.

Here is a collation of the last two conversations – by topic:

The general situation

“It is,” said Mansour (today), “good and bad.”

A foreign employee of the oil company Total was killed along with a local colleague at an unofficial, rogue check point this week near Mukallah, and another foreigner working with the Red Cross based in Sana’a was kidnapped. We have not heard who was responsible, and while much mischief is quickly and probably wrongly attributed to Al Qaeda, evidence suggests that the organization continues intent on causing harm specifically to foreigners in the country.

There are power cuts every day, but for only a couple of hours at most, and conveniently, often at night. Diesel, used for the generator, is once again readily available and our reserve tank is full.

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh still lingers on in the country and jokes abound about him waiting now for the biggest bribe he can land as inducement to leave. Meanwhile his successor, President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, makes what progress he can and in recent days has succeeded, with some outside help, in getting close relatives of the previous president holding prominent position in Yemen’s military, to step down. It is no small achievement and widely approved

The clinics

Both eye and medial clinics continue to function well. Last month Dr Loween performed 35 cataract operations. Rana, who returned to us recently after working in Sana’a for several years, is updating the job descriptions of all the team and preparing to resume responsibility for the operating theatre when Kusumam returns home to India with her husband Seji and son Clarin. She has been a really conscientious, able, supportive member of the eye team. Her husband has been a teacher at the Gandhi International School and held in great esteem and affection. As a family they have been members of the little Roman Catholic congregation worshipping in Crater. They will all be missed in Aden.

Drs Jihong and Sunghye, who were with us briefly in Aden during our recent visit, and who left at the same time as we did, have now relocated to a hospital in Addis Ababa. Like us, they are missing Aden.

There had been hopes of re-starting the programme of regular eye screening in the local schools, and when the head teachers were contacted last week all were enthusiastic and appreciative of the offer but asked that the programme be deferred. One reason is that 74 of Aden’s schools are occupied by refugees – 20,000 of them displaced by fighting in nearby Abayan province. Now at least 20 people live in each classroom. The schools that have not been occupied take children in three shifts – the youngest from 8-11 am, the older from 11–2 pm and the oldest from 4.30pm. Another reason for deferring – and half hearted attempts are being made to relocate the refugees – is that the ‘academic’ year ends in three weeks time.

The price of drugs has gone up over the past year by 55% and many basic ones, antibiotics included, are very scarce. The budget has been amended to cope with the rise and economies made elsewhere, but tracking down the drugs is still a challenge.

In the week in which we left, Ras Marbat clinics hosted for the Ministry of Health a major vaccination programme for children. It was a busy week with lots of buzz and bustle pierced occasionally with squeaks from protesting, apprehensive youngsters.

Measles is sadly on the increase. It claimed nearly 150 lives in the south of the country last year. All were of children under five years old. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) measles outbreaks can be particularly deadly in countries recovering from conflict. Damage to heath infrastructures and health services interrupts routine immunization, and overcrowding in residential camps increases the risk of infection.

According to UNICEF, 58% of Yemen’s children are stunted and chronically malnourished – the second highest rate in the world after Afghanistan.

Yemen’s new President Hadi described the situation in his country recently as “harsh”. He was not exaggerating.

Church

No day passes without at least two or three people meeting in Christ Church to worship. Every day of the working week begins for the Christian staff in prayer. On Thursdays the Ethiopian congregation gathers, many of them coming long beforehand to pray, and on Fridays, Gashu, Rex or Nazir lead the worship for those who come. Rarely has the promise of Jesus to be among his people when they meet in his name seemed more pertinent, poignant or precious. Numbers are few but the joy, I am assured, is great. May God bless them and keep them all.

Peter and Nancy

Flight from Aden

The cat moved delicately around the edge of the bean bag before settling comfortably in the ray of spring sunshine in the front of our son’s home in Reading. The cat, though far from obese, is fatter than any we ever saw in Yemen and, if a week ago, or even three days ago we had been told that we would today be watching Holly on her bean bag, we would have been surprised. But, as a friend of ours once said, ‘in the Middle East things can take a long time to happen, but when they do – they happen fast.’

Over the last weeks there have been fire fights across Aden almost daily and often well into the night. There have also been occasional roadside bombs. A few days ago, Mansour, our administrator told Nancy and I that we should leave the office and go to our less exposed apartment for ‘security reasons’ for the rest of the day. The next day, Joel, an American language teacher was gunned down in Taiz, two hours drive away. A few days before, a Swiss woman was kidnapped in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, where she too had been working as a language teacher. Both were known to be devout Christians. The group who took the one and murdered the other, is openly affiliated to Al Qaeada and singled Joel out for his Christian zeal. The organisation has promised to kidnap others. We thought it unnecessary to further test their resolve or to put ourselves and those we love and work with in Aden, at further risk by staying.

We flew out with Royal Jordanian via Amman yesterday. Today the lovely Korean couple, Drs Jihong and Sunghye, who had come from Korea to join us for a few weeks, have reluctantly taken the same decision as ourselves and flown out.

It was hard to leave without saying good bye to the staff, which we thought it best not to do. Before dawn, Mansour drove us in a beat up, nondescript car by a circuitous route to the airport.

Waiting to leave Somalia for Yemen

Waiting to leave Somalia for Yemen

A few minutes before the clinics closed on our last morning, a tired young Somali lad called in wanting help. He was from Mogadishu and had arrived by boat ten days earlier. The crossing had taken 40 hours. There were 120 squeezed aboard. Each one had paid a million Somali shillings – equivalent to US$50 for the trip. The only thing he brought with him other than his clothes was a plastic bottle of water. He is 17. He is just one of hundreds who make the perilous journey every week. He left his family and a city in flames for a refugee camp and a country itself, teetering on the brink. We flew home, thankfully, yesterday – swiftly and in comfort to security, friends and our family. I think the young Somali’s name was Omar.

Remember him in your prayers, Joel’s family too, and Jihong and Sunghye as they ponder their next step, and all who continue to work so faithfully and well back at Christ Church. Thank you for your support and your prayers.

Holly the cat, has now moved into the window, in pursuit of the sun.

With much love and our very best wishes in Christ

Peter & Nancy

 

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Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter Crooks

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