as seen in The Shelburne News

November 19, 2008

Touch Uganda helps fleeing Congolese refugees

During a night time attack in a small village in Eastern Congo approximately 250 Congolese fled over the border into Uganda not far from the Bwindi Community Hospital. The hospital's pediatric clinic is funded by Touch Uganda, a local non-profit organization that provides financial aid for medical care of children living in the most remote areas of Uganda, Africa. The influx of refugees from the DRC comes as no surprise to Touch Uganda board member, Sheila Morrissey. "The escalating situation in the Congo and the hospital's proximity to the border of the Congo makes us the perfect place to seek refuge. If it wasn't for the financial strain it puts on the hospital, it would put us in a good position to help. With the current economic situation, we are struggling to raise enough money to support the medical care of the children already living in this area," Morrissey said.

Dr. Paul Williams, director of the Ugandan hospital, has set up an emergency outreach clinic and refugee camp to accommodate and treat the incoming refugees, the majority of whom are children five and under. "I spoke with some of the children who have escaped the fighting in Congo," Williams said in a statement to Touch Uganda. "They told me that men had come to their village at night with guns, there was lots of noise, and they ran in the dark. They didn't take any possessions with them. All of the children just had the clothes that they were wearing, and most of them were not even wearing clothes."

"Most of the children were under-nourished, and some needed admission to the child health and nutrition unit. There were some with suspected TB, many had worms, and a lot of the children had coughs with some that had developed into pneumonia," Williams said.

For the past year, the organization has been responsible for raising funds to cover the annual operating costs ($58k) of the pediatric unit. The Hospital, located in the far reaches of South West Uganda on the border of the Congo, started out as a very small health clinic in 2001 doing mainly outreach projects in the area surrounding the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Fundraising efforts helped establish the Bwindi Community Hospital which currently provides medical care for 35,000 Ugandans in the surrounding area. The clinic recently received hospital status from the Ugandan Government.

The hospital has one of the most successful models in Uganda for treatment and disease prevention. Board member John Collins credits Williams and the hospital's outreach education programs. "We are very lucky to have someone like Paul, working on the ground in Uganda. He has developed an incredibly successful model to treat and prevent disease in this area," said Collins.

Touch Uganda is in need of donations to support their staff working on the ground in Uganda. A tax deductible donation to help support these efforts can be made through , or by check to Touch Uganda 308 Main Street, Box 1623, Burlington, Vt. 05402.