There are many children named Irene or Mary in Kajo Keji. Traditionally in South Sudan a child is named after someone special. In this case, it’s the midwives who delivered the children and often saved the baby or mother’s life in the process.
Irene Ewuzie and Mary Akotimolla are part of the Deploying Midwives Project established by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This is a group of 30 international midwives positioned around South Sudan to strengthen midwifery services and contribute to the goal of reducing maternal deaths.
Irene and Mary have spent two years in South Sudan training and mentoring students on a midwifery programme. They find it ‘enormously rewarding’ to be regularly saving lives. It’s the ultimate job satisfaction.
Losing a baby
‘Helping a woman to deliver a baby and then checking that they are both alive and well is a joy, a passion!’ declares Nigerian-born Irene. ‘It’s not about the money. Not in South Sudan with all the dangers around us.’ She shakes her head.
But there is also a very personal reason that goes to the very heart of this courageous midwife. ‘I lost my first baby. It was traumatic.
So each time I see a pregnant woman come to us I try all I can to send her home with her baby, because I know the pain of losing your child.’
These words are written on Irene’s face as she speaks: ‘If we lose a baby I feel so bad. People sometimes say “Don’t worry” but I say “No! It is only that woman who knows just what she’s going through." Nine months she carried that baby, and for nothing. It’s not okay.’
'I saved both lives'
Mary is from Uganda. ‘I’m always motivated by helping people at a time when they need it most. As a midwife, I feel fulfilled at the end of a day when I’ve supported a mum through her pregnancy and she’s had a normal, healthy delivery. It brings me the most joy to serve people who are less privileged than me.’
Since graduating from midwifery school in 2013, Alice Jaguru has been mentored by Irene and Mary. She works in the Kajo Keji Hospital next door to the school, and her eyes light up when she talks about her job.
‘Now I can manage emergencies in the maternity ward,’ she beams, ‘because Irene and Mary have added to my knowledge.’
She talks exuberantly about alerting doctors to dangerous conditions such as umbilical cord prolapse which required an emergency C-section, and placenta praevia which saved the lives of a mother and her baby. ‘I feel proud because I saved both lives. The second one happened Sunday morning. I was raising my hand up to God and saying “You are taking care of me!”’
Nothing more beautiful than prayer
Every eight weeks, MAF flies Irene, Mary and other international midwives back to the capital Juba where they catch commercial flights to their home countries.
‘MAF is wonderful,’ says Mary. ‘The staff are so kind and the pilots so good, but I’m touched most by the prayer. They always make a prayer before the flight and, as a Christian, there’s nothing more beautiful to me than that. Whenever an MAF Pilot says a prayer, I feel everything is fine.’
‘You know, our profession is a call from God,’ Alice concludes, ‘and I am very proud of that. My job is my passion!’