Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
the impact of healthcare on women and their communities
Recently, Executive Director Rev. Vy Nguyen, along with Week of Compassion supporter Bruce McCoy, joined ecumenical partners Lutheran Disaster Response for a week in South Sudan, seeing first-hand the ways women’s health care, community engagement, and intentional support can uplift and sustain whole communities. These travelogues and photos offer powerful insights from a remarkable visit, highlighting the life-saving programs of Week of Compassion partners serving vulnerable communities.
South Sudan is a new country and there have been major conflicts since it became its own country in 2011.
One of the side effects of the ongoing conflict here is the impact on the health systems. Particularly vulnerable in this are women and girls who bear much greater impact of limited health care in the country. There is basically no infrastructure to support women and their health, and 80% of services are provided by NGOs (non-governmental organizations), who deliver key services like prenatal and postnatal care, along with family planning counseling and HIV screening and treatment.
It’s hard work and exhausting providing medical help to women who have to walk for miles to the health clinics. What is truly amazing are the nurses and doctors and the care they provide. More importantly, it’s the community space they create for these women to support one another and empower one another to move forward. The impact is incredible.
Being with Vy in Juba, South Sudan has been empowering. Week of Compassion partners to support a medical clinic in Juba because of the deep impact it has on the lives of patients who are ultimately victims of poor maternal health services. Seeing the phenomenal work being done to help women and girls is quite moving.The work is a collaboration on the ground with partners including Lutheran World Federation, Barbara May Foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières, the Government of South Sudan, and others.
The Center sits within a vast community of IDPs (internally displaced people) just outside Juba City. The hardworking Center staff provide important care to an underserved and fast-growing population. I had an opportunity to have several conversations with women who have come to The Center for fistula surgery.
Atong Atal and her son Deng-Magai are from Warrap state - Bahr-El-ghazal and the village called Majook. When she developed a fistula following childbirth with her son, her husband rejected her and all of his attention is now focused on his first wife. Atong has one other child and when she returns to her village her hope is that she will be healed and that her husband will accept her again. [At the same time,] she’s been asking for a tent so she will have a place to live if he continues to reject her.
Nyajuok Yuel came to The Center from Nyirol. When she developed fistula in childbirth she was rejected by her husband and his family. She lost that child in the obstructed labor that caused the fistula and is now alone. Her mother is supportive of her efforts at The Center and Nyajuok is hopeful for a successful outcome for the surgery. When she is back to Nyirol, Nyajuok hopes for another husband and another chance to make a life.
Elizabeth is in her late 20s and is from Tonj County, which is north of Juba and takes about 4 days to get to Juba by car. Ten years ago she was pregnant, but unfortunately lost her baby. Since then she has been living with fistula, which has caused her to be incontinent and not be able to give birth again. Her husband left her and returned her dowry. As a result, she was cast out and rejected by her community - her safety net is gone and she has been alone ever since. She has survived on minimal resources and in the face of rejection by her community because she cannot bear children.
Elizabeth is not alone. Many women develop fistula due to the extremely poor prenatal health care and lack of services to girls and women when they give birth. She is scheduled to receive surgery from a program supported by Week of Compassion. The surgery will relieve her physical concern, but most importantly, it will empower her - she will be made whole, and can be recognized within her community.
The gospels tell how a woman came to Jesus after suffering for years from bleeding that made her a ritual outcast in her community, and consumed all of her financial resources. She dared to touch Jesus to be healed, and Jesus praised her for it. We honor the courage of the woman who dared to touch Jesus for healing, and we rejoice in Elizabeth’s courage and the work our partners do to bring her healing.
Just days ago, Bruce was excited to share an update from colleagues at The Center:
I learned this morning that both Atong Akol and Elizabeth were cured and that the surgery was successful! They have left The Center and returned to their communities in South Sudan with their lives and dignity restored.
Moved by these women and their stories, Bruce has encouraged friends and colleagues to make a gift to Week of Compassion, to continue the work in service of these women and so many others. As he says, “These women are strong and our help will make such a difference for them.” Gifts can be designated for the Women’s Empowerment Fund.
Recounting the experience in South Sudan gives us faces, names, and stories that bring the mission of Week of Compassion to life: working with partners to alleviate suffering throughout the world. Animated by core values of connection, integrity, and accompaniment, Week of Compassion has a vision of a world where God’s people transform suffering into hope. We are grateful for the prayers and partnerships that make that possible.
stories and photos courtesy Vy Nguyen and Bruce McCoy
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