Rare award for service to 'Sallies'

Salvation Army Lieutenant-colonel Ethne Flintoff, from Oamaru, with the Order of the Founder...
Salvation Army Lieutenant-colonel Ethne Flintoff, from Oamaru, with the Order of the Founder medal and certificate, presented to her for services to the Salvation Army. Photo by Andrew Ashton.
Follwing a 40-year career as a Salvation Army minister working to help reduce child poverty and mortality in South Asia, Ethne Flintoff recently came home to Oamaru, after helping save the organisation from expulsion from Bangladesh, and picking up the Sallies' rarest of accolades on the way.

Ms Flintoff (66), now a lieutenant-colonel in the organisation, became a Salvation Army minister as a 22-year-old, after training as a nurse at Oamaru Hospital.

She then spent 34 years working in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The former Waitaki Girls' High School pupil said after eight years in India, where she worked at the Salvation Army general hospital, she was sent to Bangladesh, where she was responsible for setting up a community health and child survival programme in remote villages.

''It was teaching people in the villages how to be healthy, but we expanded the programme to include a clinic service that introduced a mother and child immunisation programme, which helped reduce both the infant and mother mortality rate, so that proved very successful.''

The programme was recently handed over to the local community to run.

''It's really satisfying when you know they are continuing what was started.''

Ms Flintoff later spent four and a-half years in Pakistan, overseeing community health development programmes, before returning to Bangladesh for the last nine years of her overseas service, which ended in a long-running battle with a government determined to oust the Salvation Army from the country.

''In 2009 the Government tried to close the Salvation Army down and we had to fight to stop that, and finally after 18 months of trials we did.

''It finally came to an end when we negotiated with the government agency and the Prime Minister found out about it. She knew about the Salvation Army and got a bit mad with what the government agency was trying to do.

''But that's just life in Bangladesh for many, many people.''

At a Salvation Army congress in Auckland two weeks ago, Ms Flintoff was awarded the organisation's highest honour, the Order of the Founder, and she said she felt it was the fight with the government of Bangladesh that was responsible for her receiving an award that has been presented to only 258 people in the organisation's 93-year history.

''It was a surprise. They don't tell you in advance, and it's an award that not many people have.''

She returned to Oamaru in October 2011, and said she would still help out with volunteer work in the local community, in between her ''ongoing'' efforts to tackle weeds in her garden.

- andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz

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