Driving past them every day, he saw their tragic situation and he knew he could help. One MAF Pilot goes above and beyond to provide a make-shift refugee camp with one of their most basic human needs
Story and Photos by Karyn Ball.
MAF South Sudan pilot Wim Hobo drives back and forth to the airport almost every day. Just before he reaches the airport there is a large open field. In the past it has always been empty and unused, except for when a group of local kids would gather for an informal game of football.
Since the crisis in July 2016, this field has become an unofficial refugee camp. Over one thousand men, women and children just sit there, day after day. They have fled their own villages due to insecurity. They had no food, no water and no way to survive in their home areas any longer. They have come from all over South Sudan, displaced because of civil war. Some have walked over 200 kilometers to flee the violence. Others were evacuated by air and now are just waiting to go back home. They sit at the outskirts of the country’s international airport, just hoping for a flight somewhere, anywhere. Picture small huts made of plastic and bamboo hastily slapped together. Children in tattered clothing crowd under the shade of the loan tree. There is no outside aid; they are in desperate need of food, sanitation and water. Week after week, this new refugee camp sadly grows a little more. A few more shelters pop up each day to house the people continuing to flee the violence and unrest.
Day after day, Wim drove past this tragic sight. He saw these people just waiting there in the field and he wondered what he could do to help. “I asked Moses Swangin, one of our MAF South Sudan dispatchers, to ask the people if they have any specific needs that we could help with.” Of course, they had many. They told Moses that it was really hard to live in such conditions. They needed medicine, food and water. But most importantly, most desperately, they needed water to survive. The only water they had access to was a small dirty stream on the other side of the airport. And so the plan came together!
Quickly yet passionately Wim and Moses worked together to buy four water tanks, with a total holding capacity of 1500 litres of water. They purchased and delivered the water tanks, that was the easy part. Then Wim had to source the water to fill the tanks, and ensure that the water was filled on a daily basis. “The water truck didn’t want to come, I don’t know why,” he smiles. “I assume they are a bit fearful of the refugees as they can often become quite aggressive when they need something so desperately.”
The water truck Wim first ordered never arrived, so Wim went out to the main road and stopped the next water truck he saw pass by. “When we filled up the large drums, people were so very happy; they came from everywhere with their own jerry cans and buckets. After we filled the four big tanks, everybody had the opportunity to have their own pails filled as well.” Wim paid for this water out of his own pocket.
He asked the water truck to continue to come every day to refill the water tanks and the peoples’ jerry cans and buckets, promising to continue to pay the bill. That night, one of the water tanks was stolen by someone outside the camp. The next morning, the water truck never came. So Wim went out to the main road again, after an hour or so he had successfully waved down yet another water truck. Eventually Wim and Moses got things working smoothly and for two weeks water was delivered to the people on a daily basis.
Yet the situation in the camp naturally worsened. More and more people continued to arrive and the group were struggling without access to food and toilets. Praise God the Red Cross stepped in and began a program in the camp. They built showers and basic toilets, then brought in a larger water tank to meet the needs of the growing camp.
Wim explains, “At least we could help them for a couple of weeks. I had no idea if any other humanitarian organization would step in to help. I am happy that we could at least help them at the beginning when no one else was doing so.”
Moses was touched by the whole experience. “Doing this brought me a few tears, being a refugee in your own country is very painful, this is the life I once had. So when I see my younger brothers in this country suffering, I have to help. I passed by this refugee camp everyday on the way to the airport, I wondered why this was happening yet again. I have seen this type of tragedy since my childhood, and I want this to end. These young kids are suffering. It really pains me so much.”
Wim’s five year old daughter Yenthe was also impacted by this experience. The first day she went to the refugee camp with her dad, she was immediately surrounded by a couple hundred children. It was hot and sweaty and crowded. She had completely captured the kid’s attention. “Yenthe was likely the first white little girl these kids had ever seen before. It was like she was the main feature in a zoo.” The next time Wim was to go to the camp, he asked Yenthe to again come along. Yenthe was quick to respond, “But daddy can’t we just going swimming in the MAF pool instead?” So the two talked about it, Wim explained to his daughter that these kids at the refugee camp didn’t have enough water to drink, let alone a big swimming pool just to leisurely swim in. They discussed which was more worthy of their time on a Saturday morning. “What should we do,” Wim asked, “Swim in the pool or go and make sure the water truck arrives today?” Of course, Yenthe saw the heart of her father and decided that yes first they must go and make sure those kids got some water. “But daddy, can we go swimming after!?” Wim chuckled and agreed to postpone the swimming pool date until the afternoon.
“With MAF we bring food and aid to far away villages with our airplanes. But we aren’t usually doing anything in Juba itself. I drove past these people every day and just knew I had to do something to help them too.” Wim is quite humble about it all. “I didn’t do anything special, I just brought a few water drums full of water to people.” Yet we know he did so much more. Matthew 25:35 & 40 says “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcome me… Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
MAF is honoured to have staff such as Wim Hobo and Moses Swangin serving in the mission field. Thank you Wim for being more than just a pilot. Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus, for giving water to those who need it the most. And thanks to you, our donors for your support. You make it possible for our MAF staff to serve in South Sudan – both in the air and on the ground.