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St George’s News - Waterlooville’s Parish Magazine

The Website for St George’s Church, Waterlooville and its Parish Magazine St George’s News

Festival 2019 issue

Audrey Mentor: Life with Save the Children - Part 2

I was home on 3 months leave when a letter came through for my next posting. I had travelled quite a bit around the world. I took the envelope out and showed it to my mother and she asked me where they were sending me and I said with a grin on my face – Cape Town. I was going to Africa, a place where I longed to go and longed to see. I joined others in London where we all travelled, about 12 of us, where we awaited orders on where we were going.

While in Cape Town we helped in the various clinics.  It was a lovely city. I always remember an elderly gentleman we were treating for a septic foot and no sooner had I dressed it than he undid it to see what we had done and one day I said to him “do not touch and leave it alone”. He had a friend waiting for him outside and I heard him say to him “she very nice lady, very very nice lady but when she cross oh she bites”. I will never forget that as long as I live. Maybe he thought I would bite.

After a short time in Cape Town I was posted up to Angola. There had been Civil War and there still was a Civil War, the remnants of it which meant a lot of people needed care, their homes had been burnt. Civil War can be a terrible thing – man against neighbour. I found it very very hard work there. A lot of the work was treating cholera and typhoid and people seemed very down and out, they had all been fighting with each other. I was there for quite a long time and while I was there word was coming through that there was a famine in Ethiopia. Not an uncommon thing – that part of the world is really dry and once the ground dries out the animals die as there is no food and people were dying.

There had been a famine I think for almost 2 years with no crops growing and cattle dying. There was an urgent call for us to go up and set up working with The International Red Cross who were already there. We arrived in the area not really knowing what to expect.  

It was devastating, the towns and cities seemed alright but then into the country there was sheer devastation. The ground was so dry it was like walking on sand, there were dying cattle and carcases on the ground. Christian Aid and many other charities were there. For a long time I stood and looked at the area where we were. We set up camps and more and more people kept coming to us, hungry, sick and we had hundreds. What to do? It is very difficult sometimes to face people who are starving as they are not always friendly and if we had food they want it and they will take it.

Our job mainly was looking after the children. Many families would walk from their homes to the camps – starting perhaps with grandparents, or mothers and fathers maybe and their children and very often they would end with nobody as many would have died on the way there. I found that dealing with small children was heartbreaking. They would come to you starving, their little eyes looking up wanting food and we opened large cups full of their food and dished it up to them in little half coconuts so they could eat and their little eyes would brighten up with joy when they were having something to eat. There was a lot of illness – cholera had broken out and it was our job of course to nurse these people. We had dysentery by the bucket load and typhoid which spread very quickly. We ourselves were inoculated and were able to deal with it. During our time there we must have had hundreds, if not thousands, of people who joined us in the camp. We were nursing out in the open air looking after people on the ground.

Getting from area to area was difficult. We did have a few Army jeeps if you could drive one or the choice was jeep or a camel – I learned to drive a jeep very quickly! Camels are not the happiest things to sit on and very uncomfortable.

I think the time I spent looking after these people in their time of need was a time for thought if you had time to think. Caring for those in need. I had been called I felt sure when I left that meeting in London to serve these people with Save the Children and the work I was called to do. I travelled quite a bit around Africa and met many many people.

I think perhaps one particular time stands in my memory more than any other. It was in Ethiopia where I had spent about two and a half years. I had been on duty and come off to go to my tent for a rest period. The tent was a fair distance away from the camp and I was walking across a field to the tent which was an isolated area, there didn’t seem to be anybody about, but in the distance I saw something which appeared to be on the path. I thought first of all it was an animal but I turned and looked and it moved. I stood and watched and I realised after a little while it was a small child. It was hard to judge its age, it was small but African children are not big maybe 5, 6 or 7 years old or maybe younger. I went slowly towards this little figure and sat down on the ground next to it. I realised it was hardly conscious, obviously walked for many miles and had lost its family. I bent down on the ground and took it in my arms and it cuddled up to me and looked at me and looked up at my face and gave me such a lovely smile. Perhaps I was sent to that particular place to bring that child to the camp. Maybe there was a reason behind it, I don’t know. There were so many things during that time that pointed out to me that I had been sent there for a reason to care and love these people which I did.

to be continued.

This is a record of a talk given by Audrey Mentor on Monday 17 December 2018.

Many people will know Audrey already. She has had a wonderful and interesting life working in China and Africa and she has very kindly agreed to come here today to tell us about her life and Jane Cook is going to write it all down for posterity.

Audrey thanked everyone for inviting her to talk this afternoon.