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ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member Richard Loat (CA) was recently part of a team evacuated from Khartoum in Sudan due to an outbreak of riots. He was on his first deployment responding to flooding in the area. Even though he had no idea what to expect as he sat on the plane to the disaster zone, once he arrived it was the human connection that assisted him with carrying out ShelterBox’s disaster relief work:
Heading to Khartoum on my first deployment, it was hard to miss the pride with which I wore my ShelterBox shirt. It was beaming from me despite weariness from crossing the Atlantic twice in 24 hours (I went from a work trip to being deployed) and 30 hours of travel to the African continent.
I was off to Sudan to help bring some sort of shelter, dignity and starting point to the rebuilding of life, for those affected by flash flooding in Khartoum and it started in Cairo, Egypt.
After trying to nap for most of a 9-hour layover in Egypt’s Cairo airport, I met up with Sallie, the team lead for our deployment. Our journey started there. From the moment we met up I found I was learning so much from her as she shared story after story from her 12 previous deployments from all over the world.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
We got to Khartoum and made contact with the team before us – you know, learning the good, the bad, and the ugly about the situation.
This was Sudan, a country reeling from the secession of 75% of it’s oil and industry in 2011 with the creation of the new country South Sudan, and this was Khartoum, a city reeling from the wake of floods which had left thousands of families homeless with little to rebuild with.
Heading into the field we were deploying the remainder of 504 tents that had been allocated to Abulgaism, El Kryab and it’s surrounding areas and supporting the distribution of 1,000 tents about four hours south in an area known as the White Nile. Standing at ground-zero there wasn’t the typical flood line you’d find on buildings or walls that remained standing in flood water. This was a typical desert flash flood. The type that creates desert wadis (wah-dees, an Arabic term for the canyons carved out by flash floods). Or in this case, the type that looks more like a bomb has gone off than a flood has crashed through.
Human connection brings us together
When you head into a disaster zone there’s nothing you can do to prepare you for what you’re about to see – but no matter where you are on this planet it’s the human connection that brings us together.
It’s fumbling through broken Arabic you’ve been picking up with each passing day that brings a smile to the locals as they see you trying. Or sitting with local non-governmental organization (NGO) volunteers in your spare time (to their utter delight) and learning the Arabic alphabet and common phrases.
It’s the swarm of kids you gather around while kicking around a deflated football. Trying to give them some distraction from the situation while their family builds a new home.
True meaning of hospitality
It’s learning the true meaning of hospitality from a family of five with barely enough to support themselves, who would be insulted if you hadn’t sat down to share a cup of tea, even though you’ve only ever drunk one other cup of tea in your lifetime.
We take the Internet for granted and don't realise what it's like to have a country just switch it off. Or what it’s like to see columns of smoke along the city’s skyline as riots lead to the slow burn of a city and riot police race through the streets. And in the wake of evacuation from the field in the interest of safety it is only further motivation to get back into the field as quickly as possible to get aid to those that need it most.
Help these families
The need was everywhere and in the grand scheme of things we played a small part. However, it’s that small part that will help these families get back to their routines, rebuild their lives and homes, and it may just be the small part that gets them through their day when all seemed lost.
Even though the SRT is now safe at home, Plan International continue to act as our implementing partner in White Nile and distribute ShelterBox disaster relief tents to families displaced by flash floods.