‘I came with the dream that I have to go and get appropriate knowledge and skill [so that I can]… help the South Sudanese who are in a very bad condition.’ Gai – final year nursing student.
Having been involved with this project from its inception, it was extremely moving for Anglican International Development (AID) to witness the commitment of 49 men and women from South Sudan, to serve God and their country in the field of health at their commissioning service on Saturday 3rd June 2017. The service was conducted by the Archbishop of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali at Namirembe Cathedral, Kampala – just a stone’s throw from Mengo Hospital which has temporarily hosted the students’ training Institute.
The moment was all the more poignant knowing of the three years of struggle that preceded it and the situation that these students will face as they go back to South Sudan.
The need for a training institute for health workers in South Sudan is clear:
‘I’ve seen many mothers dying, neonates, with few health personnel, so I was interested to study about how pregnancy goes about and how you conduct labour.’ Fiona, a student midwife.
The Government of South Sudan Health Survey (2006) reported that the Maternal Mortality rate was 2054 per 100,000 live births (in the UK it is 8 per 100,000). This reflects the chronic lack of medical personnel.
To combat these dire statistics, the International Christian Medical and Dental Association (ICMDA), in partnership with the Government of South Sudan, the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and AID, committed to beginning a training Institute for South Sudanese health workers. Just as it was about to open, fighting broke out in Juba between political parties, sparking a civil conflict. The National Institute of Health Sciences, Jonglei (NIHSJ) looked like it would be crushed before it even began. But God made a way forward.
And looking back it is clear that God has had his hand over this project all the way: from the willingness of Mengo Hospital, Kampala to host the Institute, to the provision of quality, Christian staff and volunteers from around the world, to his sustaining of staff and students under heavy workloads and in a new environment (some students had never been out of South Sudan before and one had never owned a pair of shoes!) With an extremely low dropout rate and against great odds, God brought these 49 students to the completion of their studies. A further 18 continue at the NIHSJ, due to graduate next summer.
Though much has been achieved; in another sense, the challenge has only just begun for the 49 who went off to work in South Sudan this summer. Since their training began, conflict has spread across their homeland. Two million have fled to neighbouring countries, a similar number have become internally displaced, many have experienced violence, rape, destruction of villages and homes, lost family members and livelihoods and now famine has broken out in some areas. There is more need than ever for qualified health professionals but the health system is also more fragile than ever. Some will go back to very remote regions where there is little or no phone or internet signal. At a final celebration service for the students, Dr Anil Cherian, director of the NIHSJ, exhorted them:
‘You are going to find the health system which is yet to stabilise. Let the conflict there not destabilise you.’
And it is remarkable to see a common commitment amongst the students to serve their people despite the danger:
‘Where I come from there are no medical staff mostly… I think I’m the third person who was trained as a clinical officer in my area and I’m very glad to do that…I feel so great to go back to my village… at the end of this month I should be in the health centres and the hospital helping people with the skills that I acquired from this school,’ said clinical officer student Simon.
Others talk of influencing their community’s perception of hospitals and of seeking care during pregnancy, others of setting up training centres and further study.
And these students have great potential to influence their nation, not only in the field of health, but also as Christians and in peace-building.
‘ICMDA also taught me to be a good Christian. So I have learnt that when you are working on a patient you are working as a child of God and you are working on behalf of God. So it has taught me to be a very good person and it has trained me spiritually.’ Gai, final year nursing student.
At the leaving celebrations, student president, John Yak, in his second year of clinical officer studies, reminded the leavers that ‘Jesus is the greatest physician ever. So wherever you work remember Jesus is the greatest physician that you have to work with.’
He then urged them to, ‘go and work, with peace, in South Sudan, in your heart and you will bring change.’
Give thanks for God’s protection and provision for this project and pray that these students would make a great impact in South Sudan. Ask God to protect them and keep them firm in the faith. Pray for peace for South Sudan and that the NIHSJ can be established in some way for the long-term.