“I receive far more than I give”

by Sonja Küster/RBU,  2012/02/13

On her holidays, Sonja Küster does not travel to a recreation area. Instead, she travels to countries like Mozambique, Uganda or Sudan, in order to offer medical help at prisons. The young doctor is deeply moved by the impressions she has gained during her three missions at detention centres. Sonja’s short report allows us a fascinating insight into a very special form of aid.

Treatment location in the inner yard of a prison: this is already the third time that Sonja Küster participates in a medical mission for the prisoners. Photo: humedica/Sonja Küster

“BANG! With a loud crash, the large metal gate of Uganda Central Prison shuts behind us. This is our first working day of a two-week mission in the East African country.

Equipped with our medical bags and devices, we wait for the prison director. The “officers” in their uniforms are casting partly friendly, partly suspicious looks at us. I am feeling slightly uneasy. I had once more forgotten how bleak and oppressive the atmosphere is at African prisons.

Prison is a depressed place”, says the general information of PFI (Prison Fellowship International, an international organisation that advocates an improvement of prison conditions and cooperates with humedica). How appropriate.

After being welcomed officially by the director, and after having our bags controlled, we are led to the rooms where we are to examine the prisoners and distribute medications. We are ready to start our work.

In the meantime, I have taken part in three missions run by humedica and PFI. Diseases, daily rhythms, working routines and difficulties are similar in every country, but nevertheless every mission is different from the ones before.

By means of working at the prisons, you gain an insight into the society, history, politics, judicial system and economic situation of a country, which would otherwise remain hidden to outsiders. Officially, we are not allowed to ask prisoners about the reasons of their imprisonment. However, we listen, if they start telling us about it on their own accord – and their stories tell a lot.

Maybe this young man has been imprisoned because he committed a serious crime. But maybe only because of a – according to our standards – harmless difference in opinions. However, what is important in the first place, is that he receives medical help. Photo: humedica/Sonja Küster

We meet women and men who were sentenced to death for committing murder or acts of violence. Young men received life sentences due to diverse offences. Others simply had an argument with their neighbours and then became the victims of slander. And some persons are imprisoned for an undetermined period of time – often for reasons of discrimination.

We also learn of many details and individual fates from the local staff of the Prison Fellowship groups of the respective country. Some of these groups have been visiting the prisons and their inmates for years.

Some of the prisons offer medical treatment to their inmates and employ doctors and nurses. But at others this is not the case. And the fact why – despite salaried staff – the prisoners form long queues in order to be treated by us, and suffer from skin and eye infections, uropathy or infected wounds, remains unclear, as do so many other things. But we need not understand everything. Our intention is to offer help.

My friends and acquaintances often inquire regarding the sustainability of a two-week relief mission. I would like to leave this question open; I hope that our missions are a first step on a path that will be continued by others after us.

However, I am definitely sure that these missions are more than sustainable for me, personally. I will never forget how in a prison room in Uganda a group of inmates were singing and dancing with joy and confidence, which they gained from their faith despite their difficult situation.

And I won’t forget the women who established a small congregation at their prison. Some of them had been imprisoned for 20 years and they took loving care of their fellow inmates and behaved towards us with a friendliness and warmth I have seldom experienced before.

And some time ago, I heard that one of the women who had been sentenced to death was pardoned. This made me unbelievably happy.

We have developed close friendships with some of the employees of PFI, and we are still in touch with them. By means of donations we can pay the school fees for children of imprisoned parents, so that they are given an opportunity to escape a future without perspectives.

Dispensing drugs at a prison in Sudan. Drugs that can only be bought with help of your donations. Photo: humedica/Sonja Küster

During the missions, sustainable friendships have also developed within the humedica team. I have met wonderful and very special persons on these missions.

And what are you going to do on your holiday this year?” I was lately asked by a colleague. When I told her about my plan to participate in a PFI mission with humedica, she said: “I wouldn’t do something like that. After all, I want to have something of my holiday.

So do I. And every time I receive far more than what I invested in terms of time, strength and money.”

The honorary medical team members who take part in a prison mission cover the respective travelling costs by themselves. But often, targeted donations are insufficient to buy necessary medical devices, such as e.g. dental instruments or drugs.

Please support our work at the prisons by means of your donation and help the inmates who often have to serve sentences of many years without a trial or for minor offences.
      humedica e. V.
      Donation reference “PFI
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

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