Workforce Wednesday: Alaskans provide humanitarian relief in Africa
A team of Alaskan professionals are heading to South Sudan to provide humanitarian aid in Africa. Leading the charge is Dr. Jack Hickel, son of Walter Hickel, Alaska's second governor. Dr. Hickel founded the Alaska Sudan medical project in 2008.
"I had spent 16 years in Africa, raised my family there. And after I left there, I was looking for the poorest place on the planet where you could start another project," Hickel told KTVA's Daybreak in a live interview Wednesday.
Hickel teamed up with Dr. Jill Seaman, who now practices medicine in rural Alaska and Sudan, to launch the initiative. Seaman, named a Hero of Medicine by Time Magazine in 1997, had already been working in the country for several years.
"The village that we set up in is really one of the most remote, impoverished, desperate areas I have ever seen in my life," Hickel said. "I have been throughout a lot of places in Africa."
Initially, the project set out to build a medical clinic and drill water wells.
"Little did we know what we were getting into," Hickel said. "South Sudan is the most failed state in the world, the most corrupt state in the world, the most dangerous state for humanitarian aid workers in the world. Worse than Syria, worse than Yemen. Trying to get anything done was huge."
But despite the odds, Hickel says the team of Alaska volunteers made progress.
"We built the health center, started drilling wells. We started an agricultural project to help take care of the drought and famine that people were facing," Hickel said.
Then a civil war broke out in the country in 2013.
"Everything fell apart," Hickel said. "We had to kind of hunker down a little bit. And we started an infectious disease clinic, but the war made us stop that because we're on the Nile River, [that] was unsafe for travel. We couldn't get any major supplies in. Throughout the rural [areas] we continue to drill wells, start agricultural, get more agricultural projects done. Because of the war, there were 3.5 million refugees in the country of about 10 million."
"fifty-thousand of those refugees poured into our tiny village in this very remote area," Hickel added. "Why did they come? Because we had a clinic there, we had put in wells, we had fresh water. Most people had never had a drop of fresh water in their life."
Hickel is headed back to South Sudan Monday, with a small team of about five volunteers. But the list of regular contributors to the project includes hundreds more.
"The team of Alaskans and volunteers have been behind us all these years were people with a passion, Alaskans on this part of the planet, living in wealth and prosperity, helping one of the most desperate places in the world," Hickel said.
Before the team sets flight, The Alaska Sudan Medical Project is hosting a fundraiser called "Wine to Water" on Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Hotel Captain Cook. To learn more, click here.
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