Life in South Sudan, illustrated

From January to July 2019, architect Camille Quilichini spent time with MSF in Aweil, northwest South Sudan. Her illustrations offer a glimpse into daily life at a hospital where MSF has been working to provide obstetric and paediatric care since 2008.

My name is Camille Quilichini. I’m a French architect.

I used to work on social housing and heritage refurbishments in Paris for years, but I realised I was looking for a bigger commitment.

I was really interested in working with NGOs, but I never thought they would be interested by a profile like mine until a friend told me he worked as an architect for MSF…


I applied and was assigned to Aweil, in the northwest of South Sudan, to design a new pharmacy for the hospital.

The MSF hospital in Aweil is the only one in a region that’s home to 1.5 million people.

MSF had started working in the hospital in 2008, and by the time I arrived the pharmacy was a patchwork of different constructions added at different times. A new building was needed, one that would be suitable for the volume of the work MSF is doing in the area.

While I was in Aweil, getting to work on the pharmacy project, I started to draw in the hospital.

I drew because, as a non-medical member of the team, I was super curious about the work of my colleagues. Some of my team would help with dressing kids or tiny tiny newborns, but drawing was my way to find my place in the hospital.

These are my sketches of life here in Aweil.


Because South Sudan has some of the worst rates of mortality for mothers and children worldwide, the hospital focuses on providing obstetric and paediatric care.


I sketched this mother in the hospital’s emergency room. It had taken her hours to walk to the hospital in Aweil with her son who had a fever and respiratory problems.

The little boy was put on a course of antibiotics for pneumonia, and, 48 hours later, his health was improving.

While he was at the hospital, the MSF team also took the opportunity to give him the vaccinations he needed, so he’ll be more protected from disease in the future.


Drawing is my favorite thing to do while travelling.

The time you spend doing it, the fact that you really look at the things, and the greatest superpower it gives: people are super friendly with you!


Today I had a chance to make some sketches of MSF’s experts at work in the operating room.

Mustafa, our surgeon, is from Egypt.


He was working with Peter, a South Sudanese emergency room technician.

Together they were performing a skin graft. The patient was a 12-year-old child who has open wounds on his thigh and left knee.

The team explain that this is the first procedure of many that the child will have to undergo before his skin heals completely and he can go home.


I took a quick break from thinking about the pharmacy today to sketch this little boy.


Being an architect for MSF is a really specific position because you’re working on a long-term project while everybody else is more in an emergency mood.

Fortunately, working as the only “construction specialist” your role covers a lot more than just “architect”.

The reality of the project in Aweil also means that you’re thinking about the supply of different materials, training for the workers or extreme heat control. None of which would ever be on my to-do list in Paris.

This little boy was being treated on the paediatric ward. He was referred to the MSF hospital here after his foot was severely burnt during an epileptic seizure.

The arch of the foot a very sensitive area to treat, and the little boy has a serious infection that will require lengthy treatment from our teams.

He gets around on crutches that the hospital carpenter made for him.


During my assignment, drawing outside was a challenge.

First, because of security rules: you’re not allowed to walk around on your own, and I didn’t find anybody interested in standing for 45 minutes in the 45-degree heat while I was sketching.

The second reason was the attention you got: I sometimes had more than 40 kids watching me drawing, and it’s really hot when you are in the middle!

This is a sketch I made by the hospital’s maternity ward.


For women who have pregnancy complications, or scarring from previous caesareans, it’s particularly important that they give birth in a hospital where they can get specialist medical attention.

Because this is the only hospital in such a large area, some women have to travel long distances to give birth here. They’re put up in accommodation near the maternity unit while they wait for the baby to come, so that they can give birth safely in our care.

Maternal mortality – the number of women who die from pregnancy or child-birth related complications – is high in South Sudan. Providing this expert care really does save lives.

Since the beginning of 2019, the team here has delivered an average of 475 babies a month!


Today I sketched this grandmother as she spoke with one of the doctors in the Emergency Room.


She had brought her four-year-old grandson to the hospital. He’d been suffering with lots of different symptoms, including acute anaemia and bleeding skin and gums.

The doctor examined the little boy and diagnosed blood cancer, but there’s no treatment available in Aweil.

Even with the great work of the medical team and MSF’s huge investment over 10 years, some resources needed to treat an illness like this are just not available here.


I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, I just never stopped. I hesitated a long time after high school between studying to be an architect or a cartoonist. I realise now that you don’t have necessarily to choose.

While I was working on the pharmacy in Aweil, I drew most of the people in the MSF team here: so many faces from so many places…


This is Connie, our Australian paediatrician. I sketched her as she did her weekend rounds. This was an intensely busy day – by the end Connie had examined nearly 100 children.

The young patients on the ward mostly need treatment for pneumonia, malaria and dehydration caused by gastroenteritis, but also septicaemia, viruses and skin infections.

Connie also sees patients suffering from malnutrition and tuberculosis.

The child she’s examining in this sketch had been brought to the hospital in Aweil because his eyesight is failing.


In addition to the team’s daily work in the hospital, in 2019 they’ve implemented a vaccination campaign to combat the measles epidemic that’s broken out in and around Aweil.

Measles can be fatal in young children, so parents with kids between the ages of five months and five years are invited to bring them to come and get vaccinated.


The vaccination teams visit strategic points in schools and markets in order to reach the maximum number of people.

However, not everyone can come into town – some people don’t have access to a car or motorbike, so the team has also been travelling to districts outside the city.

During this campaign, MSF teams vaccinated more than 26,000 children.

Looking back

I’ve been back home for almost one month now, and I’m still surprised how fast you adapt back to “normal life”

I’ve already asked to do another assignment with MSF as an architect. Maybe one day I’ll go as an illustrator…


All illustrations © Camille Quilichini/MSF

Follow Camille on Instagram to see more of her illustrations


Read more: Positive stories from South Sudan

The beauty of movement: Helping young minds in South Sudan

Crossing the swamp: How we get healthcare to the people in remote South Sudan