In South Sudan, Saving Lives Through Hard Work and Dedication

All around the world International Medical Corps has thousands of men and women who are filled with compassion and are acting to help the lives of the most vulnerable.  Here in Tambura and Nagero counties in South Sudan where 100,000 people reside, the lifesaving work International Medical Corps is doing, is being guided and implemented b y over 180 women and men, mostly from South Sudan.  A simple compound in Tambura serves as both the office and living quarters for the eight leaders of International Medical Corps’ program in this region.  The rooms are basic, the bathroom is a pit latrine, and the shower is in a sheet metal hut.  The town itself offers no restaurants. The region is on security alert because of incursions into the area by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), originally based in Uganda. During the day, they are often out in the field, with office work being done in the mornings and afternoons.  In the evening they continue to work on projects on their computers and discuss the challenges they face in the field.  There is a room with a television.  Their weekends are spent in the compound – here everyone is both working together and living together. (Just imagine that in your workplace).   By all appearances they are more than coping, and out of respect for each other and their work, they have shaped a supportive and safe community.

This afternoon I sat down with three members of the staff, to learn about their stories, their passions, and their commitment to strategic humanitarian work.  The qualities that characterize each of these leaders are deep commitment to the mission of the work, humility, patience and pride in personal values and professional standards.  They work in very difficult circumstances with limited resources but they do not let that impede the work that is so vitally important.

Moses is the thoughtful and reserved Health Manager.  He is 28, and grew up in Kejo Keji (a place where International Medical Corps has a training center for nurses and midwives) about 75 miles southeast of Juba.  Like so many people from his country, he was forced to flee his native land and go into exile with his family to Uganda from 1987-2009.  His town was destroyed, many friends killed and the life he enjoyed was torn apart.  After being educated in Uganda and becoming a registered nurse, Moses decided to come back, “I want to be at home.”  Without his family, he returned home and a few months later began his work with International Medical Corps.   He feels that International Medical Corps is impacting many lives by paying people in the community acceptable salaries to work in the clinics.  It is only because of the staff that the clinics remain open and able to provide services.  He has high hopes for the new country – the Republic of South Sudan – but is very aware that it will not be an easy task to build the infrastructure needed.

Asmamaw, a calm, focused and insightful doctor began his work as Health Coordinator for this region last November.   He was born in the small farming village of Bure in northern Ethiopia.  After finishing his schooling in Bure, he went to the capital of Addis Ababa where he studied for seven and a half years to become a doctor. At 31, he brings a lot of experience and wisdom to his work.  He says, “The key to being effective in this work is to first understand the culture of the people as well as know the government guidelines for health.”  The respect he has for the people permeate his work.  I watch him work with midwives and nurses, see patients – always listening carefully and then providing care.  He is in charge of the HIV/AIDS program and works tirelessly to get more people tested and treated.  H e derives great satisfaction in working with the most vulnerable and in doing lifesaving interventions to combat major killers in this region like malaria, acute respiratory tract infection, and diarrhea.

Ahmed has served as Site Manager for nearly a year.  His position is really that of CEO and COO, with oversight of a large program budget.  Upon meeting him, one is taken by his warmth, his sense of inner strength and his commitment to his work.  Born in Balma in Sierra Leone, during the war, his family became refugees in Guinea.  As a university student, he and his peers were targets of a rebel group.  Some escaped, some were killed.  Upon his return he earned a degree in Environmental Sciences.  His professional career began at the World Bank as District Repatriation\Integration Officer.  He worked with the refugees coming home and in training organizations on community empowerment projects.  He began his international career as a community development officer in Liberia where he worked for five years.

Ahmed is a leader in so many ways.  He is a diplomat dealing with county officials, a fundraiser working with institutional donors, an administrator dealing with budget and personnel, and a problem solver of issues large and small on a daily basis.

He is a facile leader who learned from experience and from being an astute student of the human story.  He listens patiently and carefully.  “At the core of my work is shaping the character of the local staff and instilling in them a sense of pride in professional standards and conduct,” he says.

He derives deeps satisfaction from the work he and his team have done to meet health targets, improve the clinic structures and empower more people to take advantage of International Medical Corps’ services – like having babies delivered by trained midwives.  He enjoys his relationship with his team.

Moses, Asmamaw and Ahmed can go to sleep each night knowing that they have transformed their compassion into acts that are saving lives and improving the quality of health care of some of the most vulnerable human beings on earth.  I thank each of them and will be leaving here with a renewed sense of hope for what we can do to transform the world into a more just and safe place.  Indeed the task is not easy, but can we really bear to live in a world with so much suffering, without doing our part to help, in whatever way we can?

Help us save lives.