Grace*and her father Akech get ready to board MAF’s plane
HealthHigh FliersWomen and Girls

MAF enables child rape survivor to have life-saving surgery

15th January 2023

Grace*and her father Akech get ready to board MAF’s plane

Grace*and her father get ready to board MAF’s plane (credit: Ovadia Dominic)

Grace* was 7 when she was brutally raped on the outskirts of Juba 16 months ago, which left her with severe internal injuries and in desperate need of surgery. Thanks to MAF, Grace was able to access vital restorative surgery in neighbouring DRC under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Denis Mukwege

After 36 days of care at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern DRC, which specialises in gender-based violence corrective surgery, *Grace – now aged 8 – was finally discharged in September 2022. She was flown home to Juba, South Sudan by MAF.

Having struggled for many months with pain caused by severe rectal and urinary injuries, it was the long-awaited transformative surgery carried out in August by MAF partner Dr Denis Mukwege and team, who finally set Grace on the road to recovery.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and gynaecologist Dr Denis Mukwege

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and gynaecologist Dr Denis Mukwege (credit: Martina Holmberg)

But Grace could only access the pioneering Panzi Hospital– visited last year by Sophie, Countess of Wessex – with the support of MAF.

Following years of war, both South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have endured some of the worst infrastructure in the world.

Roads are badly damaged and notoriously unsafe given the frequency of armed robbery. Only the brave with means of transport attempt to drive to their destination.

The desperate – sexually violated women in search of medical treatment with no access to affordable transport – just walk. Some of Panzi’s patients have walked for weeks just to get help.

A little girl walking to Panzi Hospital was obviously not an option.

Finding available specialist surgery in South Sudan, which has the highest rate of poverty in the world and languishes at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index, was not an option either.

MAF was the only way.

Panzi Hospital, Bukavu, eastern DRC

Panzi Hospital, Bukavu, eastern DRC (credit: Jenny Davies)

‘She has double fistula and living a miserable life’

When it became clear in July last year that Juba Military Hospital couldn’t offer Grace the right treatment for her complex internal injuries, Dr Ajak Makor made a public plea for help on Eye Radio. Without proper treatment, Dr Makor feared for her life:

‘I am shocked to hear that this child has been suffering for so long because of rape. Her uterine wall is torn and she has double fistula (vaginal and anal). Going to the toilet (both ways) is a big issue – she is living a miserable life.

‘Her father has tried a number of clinics in South Sudan without success, but the matter is getting worse. She is traumatised and needs two surgeries. No treatment will cause sepsis and death.’

Angela Gorman MBE, Co-founder of ‘Life for African Mothers’ – a charity which aims to reduce maternal mortality – was particularly moved by the appeal and contacted Panzi Hospital for help.

Given Panzi Hospital’s existing relationship with MAF, Panzi Hospital began coordinating flights with MAF to get Grace in for surgery.

Thanks to generous MAF supporters, funds were quickly raised to fly Grace to hospital and back.

‘This is why MAF is here – we live in a broken world’

MAF Pilot Pieter Room prays for Grace, her father Akech (R) and her uncle Deng (L) before they board the plane (credit: Jenny Davies)

MAF Pilot Pieter Room prays for Grace, her father and her uncle before they board the plane (credit: Jenny Davies)

In August last year, it was MAF Pilot Pieter Room who flew Grace, her family and medical personnel on the first leg of their trip from Juba, South Sudan to Gomer in eastern DRC.

During the two-hour flight, Pieter realised that Grace was the same age as his own daughter who turned eight that day:

‘I am greatly moved by Grace’s situation. My daughter celebrates her eighth birthday today – the same age as Grace on the same day as this flight.

When I first saw Grace, she looked so innocent, and it really hit me why we’re doing this flight. Her life will be tremendously changed by this surgery.

This is why MAF is here. We live in a broken world, and we’re called to follow Jesus in restoring people’s lives. I’m honoured to be a part of this.’

Pieter Room, MAF Pilot

The next leg of the trip – another MAF flight from Gomer to Bukavu – took around 40 minutes followed by a short drive to Panzi Hospital.

Grace on her way to receive life-saving surgery

Grace on her way to receive life-saving surgery (credit: Jenny Davies)

The round trip comprising of four safe and smooth MAF flights saved Grace and her family several days of dangerous overland travel.

Grace’s father is relieved and grateful that his daughter finally got access to the treatment she desperately needed for so long:

‘Thank you MAF for the good work that you are doing to support vulnerable people. May God increase the days of people behind this great work, which has helped my daughter.’

We wish Grace a speedy recovery and pray that she will go on to live a fully restored life.

*The name of this child has been changed.

UPDATE: MAF learned in January that the perpetrator – a rogue soldier – was jailed for 11 years, fined 11 cows and was discharged from the army for his sickening behaviour.  

To help MAF fly vulnerable passengers like Grace in future, please donate here.