Nine months have passed since I first arrived in South Sudan and it’s almost time to go home. It seems I have have spent the last few days constantly typing - staff evaluations, January’s medical report, a handover report for the project’s new doctor. We also had a small going away party in the clinic for me and one of our nurses who has just left Bentiu. I was delighted to receive many gifts including traditional shirts, bracelets, a spoon for eating wal-wal (a traditional local food) and a Nuer spear.
I have tried to spend a few moments reflecting a little on my time in Bentiu. Since May last year the weather has changed from searing heat, to torrential rain, to the relatively cold nights of the early dry season when temperatures can drop below 20 and now back to dry, dusty and very hot with daytime temperatures in the 40’s.
I have also seen many changes in Bentiu. When I first arrived the population were recovering from recent aerial bombardment of the town. Then in the rains I saw the people struggling to get even basic commodities for their families with food shortages, high prices and the town almost cut off from the outside world due to roads being flooded. Later as access became easier and crops were harvested the situation became more ‘normal’ and with prospects that the nearby border with Sudan may be opened and that oil may finally again flow from the nearby oil fields the people can look forward with some hope.
Many humanitarian challenges remain in Bentiu and South Sudan however. The security of the population is threatened by inter-tribal cattle raiding and violence as well as on-going tensions with Sudan. South Sudan is host to hundreds of thousands of refugees many of whom are fleeing violence. Many people are returning to the country after years and decades away from their home land. Basic infrastructure is almost non-existent. The majority of the population live in severe poverty and access to even basic health care is very limited. The work of MSF in South Sudan will continue.
Tomorrow I begin the long journey home via Juba, Nairobi and Amsterdam. Finally in a few days I will hopefully arrive back in the west of Ireland. Many memories of South Sudan will remain with me forever. Sad memories of seeing first-hand the dire circumstances many people have to endure or of witnessing the death of a small child. Disturbing images like seeing a small boy play with an imitation AK47 possibly trying to mimic his father or other men. But mostly happy memories of seeing a mother’s joy when her child gets better, the appreciation of our staff for training and coaching given, the surprise on people’s faces when I talked to them in my few words of Nuer, of working together with the rest of the team and of the beautiful sunsets.
I would like to thank all the people from all over the world that I have had the privilege to work with over the last nine months. I want to thank also all of the staff in the Bentiu project and all of the patients and their caretakers for welcoming me into their community. I want to thank my family, girlfriend and friends for all of their support. Thanks to everyone who has read this blog and to all who have left comments of support and encouragement. In difficult moments it was good to remember that so many people support our work. Thank you especially to the people from all over the world who make donations to MSF. Without you there would be no MSF.
Until next time.