Amid famine and conflict in South Sudan, 20 Australians are deployed on Operation ASLAN, Australia’s support to the United Nations Mission (UNMISS) to help restore peace in Africa’s youngest country.
While their roles as military liaison officers as well as in aviation and logistics support keep them busy, they are also making good use of their down time as well.
They visit the Juba Orphanage Home weekly to deliver fresh fruit, vegetables and, most importantly, joy to the 45 kids who live there.
It was during one of the visits that what started as a joke quickly turned into a plan to raise money for the orphanage.
UNMISS Plans Staff Officer Flight Lieutenant (FLTLT) Kelly Francis, who grew up in Wynnum, said she had never cut her hair above shoulder length, but was willing to change that.
“One of my co-workers came up with the idea originally,” she said.
“He jokingly asked how much it would cost for me to shave my head to raise funds for the orphanage.
“Because of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, the government is stretched for resources, but we don’t think children should be disadvantaged because of the fighting.
“After some consideration on what could make a difference to the lives of the kids at the orphanage - I settled on $5000.”
The Australian contingent said the country was a culture shock compared to home.
“The country has been engaged in a civil war since 2013 and Juba (the capital) experienced a violent crisis in July last year,” FLTLT Francis said.
“Because of the ongoing security situation, the country is quite poor and many facilities aren’t in the best shape.
“It was a shock to see piles of rubbish in the streets and how the locals live when I first arrived.
“However, despite these disadvantages, the South Sudanese people are quite friendly, very welcoming and are wonderful to work with.”
Unfortunately, the lack of government resources has impacted the Juba Orphanage, whose children sleep on old and stained mattresses in unhygienic conditions.
FLTLT Francis’ fundraiser aims to replace the kids’ mattresses and purchase mattress protectors, with the left over money going towards buying more fresh fruit and vegetable for the orphanage.
She will also donate her hair to charity so it can be used to make wigs for cancer patients.
“The kids of the orphanage have so little but they’re always so full of energy,” she said.
“The orphanage gives them a safe place to sleep and sends them to school, which keeps them from begging on the streets.
“They may not have much but if we can give them somewhere comfortable to sleep at night, I think that will make a real difference to their lives.”
Although the country has had a tumultuous time since their declaration of independence in 2011, FLTLT Francis said the people are committed to repairing the hurt caused by the civil war.
“Working for the UN is a fantastic experience, but sometimes my role in planning can make me feel far removed from actually making a difference to the mission,” she said.
“Working with the orphanage helps me feel like we are having a positive impact on the people we are here to help and protect.
“By giving the kids a better chance, hopefully one day they will be part of the leadership of South Sudan and take part in the peace building process.”
You can keep up with FLTLT Francis’ fundraising efforts, and donate to help the children of the orphanage by visiting her GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/aussie-juba-orphanage-fund
By Corporal Sebastian Beurich