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A Journey to Flood Ravaged Guyana

by Judy Neal

A waterline high on a red picket fence dramatically shows the height the floodwater reached at the New Hope Community just east of Georgetown. Georgetown is the capital of Guyana on the northeast cost of South America. Weeks after the late January flood, water still remains in this hardest hit area. As it slowly recedes, an awful odor comes up from the wet, soggy ground. Garbage is in piles on the ground along with the occasional bloated remains of a dead animal. Stray cattle pick at the rubbish.

Since 80% of Guyana’s population lives along a mile and a half strip of the coast, this flood affected most Guyanese, a majority of whom were desperately poor already. Now they have lost everything. How will they recover their lives? As you drive along, you see women sweeping, scrubbing, and pouring bleach on the wood and concrete in an effort to reclaim a living space. Mosquitoes thrive in the stagnant water and bring the threat of dengue and malaria fever. The contaminated water threatens the health of anyone near it and, certainly, those who must wade in it. Leptospirosis has killed several people and most Guyanese are now taking Doxycycline for prevention. Guyana’s disaster has mainly been ignored by the world’s press. It came when people were still reeling from the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Any other catastrophe, even one that drove 750,000 from their homes, was dwarfed by comparison, yet the people of Guyana cried out too.

Help came from inside and out of the country. The Guyanese government was caught unprepared and was slow to respond, but the Red Cross was there and the U.S. government provided help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) contributed relief in food and medical supplies. The local Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) also responded as its resources allowed. Neighbors helped neighbors. Sadly, there were also bandits who looted homes and took money from victims at gunpoint.

This flood will impact Guyana for years to come. Some of the poorest people need new houses but there are none to be had and no place to relocate the homeless. The people fear that rains expected in May could bring further flooding and hardship.

Another volunteer nurse and I were in Guyana from February 13 to 20 to visit with Bill and Diana Upchurch, United Methodist missionaries there for the last nine years. Bill and Diana seem to know everyone in Georgetown and are known affectionately as “mama” and “papa,” terms of respect and affection. Our mission was to meet with them and with Kurt Jordan, the facilitator for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) for Guyana. We wanted to learn all we could to facilitate the sending of UMVIM construction and medical teams to Guyana.

We also wanted to learn as much as we could about the HIV/AIDS problem in Guyana. Diana had been working for years in the adult and children’s HIV ward at the hospital. God gave Bill and Diana a vision for a children’s home for HIV positive children who have been abandoned. These children are often excluded from other homes and end up alone on the streets. The Upchurch team has enlisted churches and local organizations to make the home a reality. Already the Lord has provided land, a contractor, and UMVIM teams to begin preparation for the construction of the building.

The home will be a comprehensive care center—“care” in every sense of the word, spiritual, physical and emotional. The residence will be a 16,000 square foot, three-story building with a flat roof that will serve as a garden area as well as a conference area. There will be rooms for an infant nursery and dormitories for boys and girls. Caregivers will have apartments there. A clinic and a school already operate next door to the site. The surrounding community is important in the plans and some community activities will be held at the residence. We hope that this facility will become a prototype for use elsewhere in Guyana and around the world.

The ongoing ministry in Guyana is exciting and dynamic, assisted by Bill and Diana Upchurch and Guyanese co-workers, Kurt Jordan, and Maurice and Bea Evans. The excitement is contagious and affects everyone who comes in contact with it.

Our exploratory trip will result in a “destination manual” on CD for those interested in planning an UMVIM trip to Guyana. The manual will include information need to organize construction, medical, or Vacation Bible School teams. Those with questions should contact Judy Neal in Lexington, KY or Pat Smith in Gallatin, TN

Our hope is that many United Methodists will prayerfully consider joining in this ministry that responds to Christ’s love.

*Judy Neal, RN, is president of UMVIM’s Southeast Jurisdiction Medical Fellowship and the jurisdiction’s representative to the United Methodist Fellowship of Health Care Volunteers.

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Date posted: Feb 28, 2005