Norfolk woman describes vital aid mission in Africa

Refugees with gun and knife wounds, families struck by malaria and communities who are not likely to return to their homes for up to a year – these are just some of the people Norfolk woman Anna Walton is trying to help after a vicious civil war has raged in Ivory Coast.

The 32-year-old former Norwich School student from Brooke, near Norwich, is managing a large-scale aid effort in the African national of Liberia.

Despite the arrest of the former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, last week, Miss Walton is trying to ensure thousands of refugees who fled in a hurry are given proper medical care and attention in transit camps.

Miss Walton arrived in Maryland County at the beginning of April to find people fleeing as the violence erupted in Ivory Coast.

More than 150,000 refugees have escaped the country. She is co-ordinating medical teams, emergency supplies and making sure international medical aid agency Merlin reaches as many people as possible.

'Families have left the Ivory Coast with nothing but the clothes on their back and are in desperate need of shelter, food, safe water and of course health care', she said.

'Horrific atrocities have been committed by both sides involved in the fighting in the Ivory Coast, and refugees are arriving in Liberia traumatised by the indiscriminate violence they have seen and experienced.'

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When she first arrived in Liberia she said there were people coming across the border with injuries such as bullet wounds and knife wounds.

But now the real risk to life is malaria.

'People have been walking for a long time across the border and sleeping outside with no mosquito nets, a lot of them contracted malaria on the way', she said.

This week, Merlin treated a five-year-old boy who had been slashed with a knife as he fled from his village last week. The wound had become infected during his journey to cross the border, and his current home is now a disused and dilapidated college building being used as a refugee camp. Merlin has been working in Liberia since 1997 supporting clinics and hospitals and trained health workers.

Miss Walton joined Merlin early last year, but has worked in the humanitarian sector for almost six years.

She travelled to Thailand when the tsunami hit in 2004 having travelled around Asia and has since then she has worked in Pakistan after the earthquake, the Darfur crisis, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and Typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines.

'I cope with it like doctors who work in hospital. They are sensitive but they focus on the job in hand. You cannot let it affect you. In terms of your job you have to be professional.

'What I like most about my job is without a doubt, the people I work with. There is such an interesting mix of international and national individuals, all working tirelessly towards the same common humanitarian goals.'

She said they were now trying to move the refugees from a transit site into a refugee camp where they would give them materials to build their shelter. This is urgent as the rainy season is coming.

Miss Walton's parents Richard, 53 and Lorraine, 45, still live in Brooke and when she is not working she returns to Norfolk.