By Cath Taylor
Mother Theresa is credited with saying: “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”
Sometimes, perhaps we can do both.
Kakuma refugee camp is a sprawling mass of humanity on the border between Kenya and South Sudan. Under canvas and tin supplied by the UNHCR and the Kenyan government, more than 150,000 people make their homes, many separated from brothers, sisters, children and parents by fighting across the border in South Sudan and Somalia. Into this maelstrom, another little life emerged last month.
Her name is Deborah (pictured). She might never have been.
It was an ordinary morning for young South Sudanese midwives completing their practical placements in the Kakuma Mission hospital. Most in their early 20s, they’ve been relocated to Kenya with the help of the Uniting Church in Australia after their training facility in the South Sudanese town of Leer was razed to the ground amid heavy fighting. Some of the women don’t know where their families, husbands, and even children, are – people fled into the surrounding bush as the conflict erupted.
The young women carry on with their studies as registered refugees in Kenya in a school run by UnitingWorld’s partner, the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency of South Sudan. They’re determined to finish their midwifery course, go back to their country and serve their sisters. Until then, they will stay and serve their fellow refugees.
“A woman from the camp was brought in to us that morning,” midwife tutor, Jane said.
“She was haemorrhaging and her child was experiencing foetal distress. An emergency caesarean was required to save her life and the life of her child. She was South Sudanese and spoke only Dinka, and the doctor requested that our student speak with the distressed woman in Dinka and explain the procedure to her.”
Further complications arose and permission needed to be granted for an operation that would save the mother’s life – but also make it impossible for her to have further children. Again, the student midwife was called upon to assist, patiently persuading the family of the absolute necessity of the operation in spite of the risks and long-term outcome. Some hours later, a healthy child was born and the mother’s life saved.
“As the mother began to recover, she told our midwife, Deborah, how much her support and encouragement had meant to her,” Jane said. “It was so important to the young mother that she has named her child after the midwife.”
Deborah, namesake for a newborn refugee child, knows exactly what it means to live a fragile existence. Her own parents and brothers are in a different refugee camp in Uganda. She has not seen them in many months.
“I have wanted to be a midwife since I was in primary school,” Deborah said.
“I want to be first a midwife, then a doctor to serve my people. In South Sudan, too many mothers and babies die in childbirth, there are not enough midwives. I am relocated here to study and serve because of the love of the people who donate and the love of my tutors.”
It’s pretty amazing to reflect on this love and determination, given that these young women are themselves displaced from their homes, living as refugees with no way of knowing where their families are or when they might see them again.
UnitingWorld’s Everything in Common catalogue has a range of Christmas gift ideas to help support people like Deborah in South Sudan, saving the lives of mothers and babies.
Go to www.everythingincommon.com.au to select a gift.