Editor’s Note: Earlier this week Dr. Vivek Kalia, the author of this guest post, read the latest United to End Genocide email about the first anniversary of South Sudan’s referendum and reached out to Tom Andrews to tell his story. Tom and the entire team would like to thank Dr. Kalia for sharing his experience.
By Dr. Vivek Kalia
This past spring, I was given the opportunity to participate as an instructor in a very exciting and unique project to help create South Sudan’s first generation of doctors.
I arrived in Juba in April 2011 to work on this project, which was borne out of the educational circumstances and challenges that the medical students in South Sudan face. The effort, called the SSMEC (Southern Sudan Medical Education Collaborative) Program, was headed by Dr. Thomas Burke of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and supported by MGH and the Ujenzi Trust organization.
After years of civil war, the medical education system in South Sudan was in shambles. When peace finally offered medical students an opportunity to return to their studies, they found Juba University lacked the resources and instructors they needed. With so little infrastructure, this “empty” university provided its students with very little guidance or advanced warning about when (or if) classes would resume each semester. The SSMEC Program was designed to temporarily fill this teaching gap by developing curriculum and providing instructors.
Prior to leaving for Sudan, I prepared a medical curriculum for the students I would eventually be teaching in Sudan from scratch, which was later approved by administrators at MGH and at Juba University. I have never been more excited or satisfied than when I saw the eagerness in the students’ eyes and their devotion to learning the material.
While I was in Juba, Karen Day, a well-published writer, photographer, and filmmaker, made a short documentary about the program to help highlight the situation in South Sudan and hopefully garner more interest in and support for our work.
Two of the senior medical students, Chol and Emmily, are featured in the film. They both became great friends of mine during my time with the program. In the video, Chol gives a clear perspective about how isolating his circumstances were when he was growing up in rural Sudan and how he came to know and love medicine:
“I didn’t know that the world was big. I didn’t know there are doctors, pilots, engineers. It’s when I got to school when I got to know there are other people in the world, and there is some kind of healthcare in the world… I didn’t see any doctors that I could see as my role model. I started admiring doctors when I had malaria, and I saw a doctor and recovered from it. I said ‘this could be a good thing to do, so I can help other people as they have helped me now’ “.
This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ll never forget the friends and memories I made. It is my hope to return to South Sudan to see my former students providing much-needed healthcare to the warm, kind residents of Juba. I am thankful to Dr. Burke, Karen, and all of the other staff from Ujenzi and MGH who supported the project and made the trip possible for me.
Dr. Vivek Kalia is a medical doctor living in Maryland. He volunteered his time in Juba in April and May of 2011.