Travel woes cause baby blues for Southland man

Huw Donaldson and Saffie Marrah-Donaldson on their wedding day (Supplied)
Huw Donaldson and Saffie Marrah-Donaldson on their wedding day (Supplied)

A Winton man will miss the birth of his first child after bureaucratic issues left his pregnant wife stuck in Sierra Leone.

Huw Donaldson began volunteering in the West African country in early 2014, working with missionary organisations in the impoverished nation.  It was there he met his future wife, Saffie Marrah-Donaldson.

Much of his time was spent working on various community programmes and youth work with a Baptist Mission.  He also helped build a set of classrooms, along with infrastructure and maintenance projects.

The couple got married last April, receiving a surprise when Saffie got pregnant a few months later.  Huw then began making plans for the pair to return to New Zealand to have their child.

"This area of West Africa is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world", says Donaldson.  "It is an extremely risky place for a woman to give birth in relation to medical complications."

A decade-long civil war worsened the economic conditions in the country, with the closure of mines across Sierra Leone increasing mass unemployment.  That made it difficult for Donaldson to find any paid part-time work, which the couple needed to survive while continuing with the voluntary work.

Donaldson was forced to move home to New Zealand to find work and earn money for the couple.  Wife Saffie obtained scans and a doctor's certificate to prove she was safe to fly, and was finally granted a visa to travel to New Zealand the day before Christmas.

Saffie split her flights to New Zealand between two airlines to save money - reducing a $10,000 ticket down to $2,900.  But when she tried to fly in early January, staff at Royal Air Maroc refused her permission to board over travel concerns.

Donaldson says the company was confused about the visa rules over a brief stopover in London on the way to New Zealand, and believed pregnant women were not allowed to transit in the UK.

"We believe they were oblivious to the agreements between New Zealand, England, Canada etc regarding transiting", he says, despite their travel agents having investigated the rules and assisted with obtaining the correct travel documents.

Saffie tried rebooking both legs, but was refused boarding a second time last weekend.  At 32 weeks pregnant, it is now too dangerous for her to fly.  She has now been booked into a hospital in Sierra Leone for the birth which is due in March, and hopes to be able to fly to New Zealand later in the year following the baby's safe arrival.

"I'm in my 30s and have never had a child", says Donaldson. "We talk each day via phone calls and texts, but it's very hard being apart, especially when Saffie is so stressed.  It'll be really hard not being there for the birth and to support my wife, but unfortunately we just have to make the best now for the safety of our child."

But the travel issues have cost the couple dearly, with thousands of dollars lost in flight cancellations and other administration fees.  They're now working to ensure Saffie's next attempt to fly with their new baby is successful, launching a Givealittle page to help raise funds for new flights and other costs.

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