Tut Riam was in his second year of training to become a midwife when the conflict in South Sudan began. In a country with one of the highest rates of maternal mortality anywhere in the world, the skills he was developing were vital. Yet his future and his life were thrown into chaos by the fighting that broke out in the capital, Juba.
“My teachers told us to leave the school early, because people from my tribe were being assaulted all across Juba. They could not keep me safe in the school.”
Tut left South Sudan for Kenya where he would be safe from the fighting, but after several months without any hope of continuing his studies, he resolved to return to his homeland. The journey back to South Sudan would be particularly dangerous, because Tut bears the distinctive facial markings of his tribe. As the ethnic divisions in South Sudan became ever more violent, these markings threatened to identify him to any fighters looking to attack people of his tribe.
“I crossed the border from Kenya in a car filled with friends from a different tribe. I wore a cap to hide my markings and prayed that the car would not be stopped.”
In fact the car was ambushed by a group of fighters almost as soon as it crossed the border. Everyone in the car was pulled out and told to reveal which tribe they were from. It was only the bravery of his friends who convinced the fighters that they were all from the same tribe which saved Tut’s life.
“They were shouting in their own language which I do not understand. All they needed to do was remove my hat and they would know me and my life would be over. I owe those friends my life.”
Once back in Juba, Tut was able to complete his final year of studies and qualified as a midwife. Yet Juba still remained too dangerous for him to live freely in the city. On the day that he graduated he moved to the UN Protection of Civilians camp, joining 30,000 thousand internally placed people seeking refuge from the violence.
“At first I thought I would never be able to use my skills as a midwife, but then I heard about the International Medical Corps health centre where many babies are born every week.”
Tut joined International Medical Corps as a midwife and works every day in the maternal health clinic, supporting pregnant women and new mothers. Each month he helps to deliver as many as 80 babies in the camps small maternity ward.
“I am very proud to be a midwife because it is like saving two lives at once. I help save the mother and the baby.”