The Congo Canoe Challenge

By Kiran Hutchinson

Munching on caterpillars in a motorised canoe, five Australian volunteers travelled 600 km to carry out a medical training mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Average life expectancy there is just 48 and health services are hard to access, expensive and of poor quality. So the four-week expedition, which began in August and included two doctors, was important. Some of the places they visited were accessible only by river so the canoe was their mode of travel.

The Congo Canoe Challenge was led by Lucy Hobgood-Brown, an ICA Australia (ICAA) member who has been going there over the last 11 years on behalf of HandUp Congo (www.handupcongo.org). Her last visit was featured in the April 2014 edition of Winds & Waves. With her were Dr Vera Sistenich, Dr Grace Maano, Chris Coombes and Maureen Burdynski.

The team took 400 kg of donated medical equipment, eyeglasses, footballs and life jackets as well as other materials for community development work. The medical equipment included ECGs, portable ultrasounds, vital signs monitors, foetal Doppler’s, pulse oximeters and ambubags. These were donated by the Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS) and the DAK Foundation. Contraceptive (Jadelle) implants were provided by the RAWCS Worldwide Maternal and Child Health project, which Dr Maano manages. ICAA provided financial support for community development projects that the team visited on the journey.

The team worked with more than 90 health-care staff at four locations. Dr Maano, a locum career medical officer, trained them in basic ECG reading, obstetric ultrasound scanning, handling obstetric emergencies and inserting contraceptive implants. Dr Sistenich, an emergency physician specialist and Fellow of the Australian College of Emergency Medicine, gave training in neonatal, paediatric and adult life support, airway and trauma management, as well as fluid resuscitation for children. 

A day after their first training session, the trainees faced an unexpected challenge – an infant badly injured in a road accident. The Congolese doctors resuscitated the child. "We were overjoyed to learn that this training had such an immediate, wonderful outcome,” says Dr Sistenich. The trainees also performed contraceptive implant insertion on 159 women.

Their activities were documented by Chris, an environmentalist with an Australian council, and Maureen, a veteran publicist and social change activist. They also photographed capacity building initiatives in communities, including a Pygmy village in remote Equateur Province. Their photos can be viewed on
HandUp Congo's Facebook. A video of the mission can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4MM5o3jRGQ&feature=youtu.be

HandUp Congo, which promotes sustainable development, was co-founded by Lucy, who grew up in Congo. Rotarian Lucy works pro bono year-round on community development initiatives there. On Rotary Day, Nov 7, she represented Australian and Congolese clubs at the United Nations in New York, and was recognised for her work with a Global Woman of Action award.

Kiran Hutchinson has been working with HandUp Congo for the past six years, focusing on health and education projects in the Equatorial Province.  She has also been involved in community development for more than 20 years, in Indonesia, Timor Leste, India and Australia.

For more information

about the Congo Canoe Challenge and ICA Australia’s role, contact Lucy at handupcongo@gmail.com or visit www.handupcongo.org. To read our report on her last visit, go to http://windswaves.icai-archives.org/ww-2014-april/03-canoeing-congo.htm


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