VOLUNTEERS from Huddersfield have returned from their life-saving mission in Africa.
Fixby couple John and Chris Philip and hospital official John Ennis led a team helping the people living on the remote island of Ukerewe in Tanzania.
The volunteers worked alongside prisoners and school children to supply water to schools and build a shelter for pregnant women.
The project to transform healthcare and water provision began three years ago when John, a retired Huddersfield Royal Infirmary surgeon, and his wife Chris visited the island.
Most of its 350,000 strong population live in scattered communities, linked only by mud tracks.
The island, which has been dubbed the ‘forgotten island’, is over three hours away from the mainland town and reachable only twice a day by ferry. Ukerewe is the largest island in Lake Victoria and the largest inland island in Africa.
The couple heard alarming stories of women with complicated pregnancies walking many miles to reach the hospital.
John said: “Four women had died in labour on the way to the hospital.
“This was heartbreaking, especially in a day and age when this can be prevented.
“We decided there and then to find a way to help.”
The couple persuaded medical colleagues to join them and a team of 25 Rotary volunteers have visited the country several times.
Another key figure in leading the mission was Outlane man John Ennis, a hospital engineering officer for Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust.
The group have already rebuilt the hospital’s operating theatre and helped provide improved care for pregnant women.
Their latest visit saw them spend three weeks transforming an old abandoned building.
They turned it into a 20 bed shelter for expectant mothers and brought clean water to local schools.
The group also improved the water supply to the hospital and installed solar panel lights in the operating theatre so that the surgeons wouldn’t have to carry out life-saving operations with a head torch.
John said: “Rotary is very hands-on, many may think we just rattle tin cans but there’s a lot more to it than that.
“We sent out a 40-foot container with vital school and medical supplies as well as building equipment including a concrete mixer.
“The community really pulled together to help us. Two hundred schoolchildren and 30 prisoners joined us in digging a two-kilometre trench to supply water to two schools.
“This will be the first time in the history of these schools that they will have fresh water supplies.
“There are 22 secondary schools, most with no water, toilets, electricity, books – many even with no desks or chairs.
“Being able to bring clean running water, which we take for granted back home, is a humbling experience.”
The volunteers didn’t stop there as they left behind vast quantities of tools, including 39 sewing machines and carpentry and masonry tools to that more youngsters may receive vocational training.
A new microcredit programme has been launched under the supervision of a local committee to encourage women to be more economically active.