On January 12th, five of us flew to Faradje, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, to set up and run an emergency measles vaccination campaign for the town. We spent a pleasant, if at times very tiring, two weeks in Faradje. We ate and slept at the Catholic parish, and set ourselves up to work in the office of the Danish Refugee Council, the staff of which were exceedingly kind and welcoming. In Faradje, like many towns in DR Congo, the remnants of the violent Belgian colonial past are still very visible in the perfectly straight, tree-lined streets and a number of old buildings in various states of disrepair.
One of the three main roads in town, the Faradje-Watsa road:
L’Administrateur du Territoire de Faradje has his office in an old Belgian administrative building, a facsimile of those in which many of his counterparts in other territories can be found working:
Homes in the area are newer than the colonial buildings, but the architectural style is far older, as it’s more closely matched with local needs and locally available and affordable resources for home-building.
The last time I worked in DR Congo, I saw Canadian shirts all over the place, including a UBC Thunderbirds jersey in Lubutu. This time around, in a completely different part of the country and nearly two years later, it is apparently still trendy to sport Canadiana. Take, for instance, this dapper young man sporting a vintage 1993 Vancouver Canucks hockey jersey while riding his retro-style single speed bicycle around Faradje (those with a good visual memory will recall that the little crest on the corner of the jersey was worn to mark the 100-year anniversary of Lord Stanley’s Cup in 1993).
The Catholic church in Faradje, as seen from our veranda, including the police ghost, frequently seen in the area, patrolling the grounds of the church:
We also went inside the church to have a quick look:
As for the measles vaccination campaign, which was the whole point of our visit to Faradje, we first had to set everything up. This included setting up a small generator outside the hospital to power the fridges and freezers we brought for the vaccines and ice packs. Apparently the incredibly loud noise of a generator two metres away does not in any way diminish one’s quality of sleep, evidence of which is provided by this friendly sleeping pig:
When I got close for a better photo, I woke him up, but the generator was no problem…
Freezers on the left for ice packs, fridges on the right for vaccines and solvent, all correctly placed on palettes:
Inserting frozen ice packs as an insulating layer in an ice-lined vaccine refrigerator, a step often ignored by those setting up such refrigerators:
With the cold chain in place, and a team of community mobilisers out on the town spreading the message about the upcoming vaccination campaign, it was time to select locations for vaccination sites and get them set up. In four of the five fixed sites we set up, we built temporary shelters against the sun and rain. First, sticks were cut and holes were dug:
Next, posts were pounded into the holes, cross-beams were tied to the taller posts, and orange plastic fencing was installed to control the flow of people through the vaccination sites:
Completed vaccination site, minus the roof, with space for two separate vaccination teams to work:
Here’s a vaccination site with tarpaulin roof attached. Children enter to either the right or left of the central dividing fence, generally based on their age (under five years on the left, five and above on the right, for instance). A child first sees a registrar who fills out a vaccination card for the child, then the child is vaccinated and receives a Vitamin A pill and sometimes a de-worming pill.
The long line of people waiting four abreast was quite impressive to see on the first morning of vaccination at this vaccination site:
Of course, every single kid who was vaccinated was a happy, smiling bundle of joy:
After being vaccinated, each child’s finger was marked with gentian violet to show that he or she had been vaccinated:
Staff for the vaccination sites, recruited locally, were identified by MSF tape around their arms. This was our youngest employee:
My motorcycle driver and I were responsible for buying donuts and peanuts for the ten vaccination teams in five different sites. Each day we would buy out the entire stock of several donut sellers, who would laugh uncontrollably at the mundele (white man) with the enormous appetite for donuts.
As we had no vehicles in Faradje, we used the hospital ambulance for some needs, but the majority of work was done by a bunch of motorcycles we rented locally. At one point, we had over 20 motorcycles at our disposal. On the final day, we took a group photo with 16 of them:
As a side project, during and after the vaccination campaign I organised to increase the size of the hospital’s healthcare waste management area, with two new pits dug: one for glass vials and ampoules, the other for the ashes of sharps boxes. We left just before the project was completed, so I had to hand over to another NGO, but we got a good start on it. Each pit was 2m long x 1m wide x 4m deep once completed:
We also gave protective clothing for the man responsible for healthcare waste disposal:
Each pit needed a reinforced cement slab as a cover. For the glass vials and ampoules pit, the slab would have a simple hole to drop the glass down into the pit, with a lid to keep rain out. For the other pit, a drum burner would be fixed in the cement so that the ashes from sharps boxes would drop directly down through a hole in the bottom of the burner, into the pit. For the cement, we had to buy gravel and sand…
…plus bricks for the foundation on which the slab would sit…
…and of course cement too! We also bought iron re-bar to reinforce the cement, and wooden planks to create the form for pouring the cement.
Aside from work, there were some lighter moments in Faradje, such as the First Annual Faradje Olive Pit Spitting Competition. This involved eating an olive, but keeping the pit in one’s mouth, then attempting to spit the pit into the hollow tree stump a few metres away (which can be seen in the bottom right corner of the church photo above). For the first round, each participant agreed to put $20 in the pot, and whoever first succeeded at landing the olive pit in the tree stump would get all the money in the pot. I managed it on my second try, immediately winning $40. We then decreased the buy-in to $1 for each participant, increased the number of players to eight, and kept trying for a while longer.
Playing around with unused medical equipment (normally, this apparatus is used to transport people from one part of a hospital to another, or particularly in care homes, when a wheelchair or gurney is inappropriate or less convenient. In a hospital where each ward is in a building of its own, separated from the others by very uneven terrain, this patient transportation apparatus becomes more useful as a coat rack than anything else).
A bit of Monday afternoon poker with unused vaccination cards substituting for poker chips:
We also zipped out to the river’s edge one day in Faradje to see some hippos. There were about ten of them, very cool to see! In this photo, three hippos are visible: