Wendy Wabende
South Sudan

Whispers of the Sobat River: A Nurse's Journey in South Sudan

The Sobat River wasn't just water, it was my heartbeat while in South Sudan. My name is Wendy Wabende, and my journey as a nurse takes me from the bustling emergency room of the Oslo University Hospital in Norway to the distant landscapes of South Sudan, as an Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) international mobile staff.

It all started in April 2022 when I joined the organization. In May 2023, I went to Ulang, South Sudan, on a 6-month assignment as a Nursing Activity Manager. Little did I know that this experience would stretch the boundaries of my nursing skills and redefine my understanding of resilience. Ulang was a universe away from Oslo. Here, resources were scarce.

Ulang, with its dusty trails and resource challenges, demanded a level of creativity I hadn't experienced before. In Norway, everything was at my disposal, but here, the only means of transport was by boat or air, presenting a unique set of challenges, especially during the unpredictable rainy season.

As a Nursing Activity Manager, I ventured into uncharted territory, managing people of different cultures, knowledge, and experiences. The role of a manager was new to me, and each day brought forth a mix of challenges and learning opportunities. The lack of familiarity was daunting, but the reward lay in the richness of the experiences that unfolded.

The work with MSF brought moments of both joy and heartache. Engaging with the community in Ulang was a source of immense satisfaction. My favourite moments were the boat trips along the Sobat River, crossing villages with children swimming outside, and happy and waving. The vibrant Nuer culture, cultural dances during weekends, and shared tea in the market became threads connecting me to the community.

MSF teams travel to Ulang by boat
MSF teams travel to Ulang by boat

However, transferring critical patients during the 8-hour boat trip to Malakal was the most challenging aspect of my mission, where the weight of limited medical help became most evident. Those were the days I dreaded, grappling with the stark contrast to the medical provisions I had been accustomed to in Norway.

Then there were the moments that made it all worth it. The baby who took her first shaky steps after months of malnutrition. Those were the victories I carried in my soul, the whispers of hope that echoed through the Sobat's depths.

Yet, through the dust and the tears, there was a profound sense of purpose. Working with MSF, I wasn't just a nurse. I learned the art of improvisation, the language of unspoken needs, and the power of a smile in a world where resources were scarce, but humanity overflowed.

Stories from the frontline "I learned the art of improvisation, the language of unspoken needs, and the power of a smile in a world where resources were scarce, but humanity overflowed."
Wendy Wabende

Back in Oslo, the emergency room feels sterile, the trauma confined within four walls. The vastness of the sky, the raw vibrancy of emotions, the river's unwavering melody - Ulang's essence imprinted itself on my soul. The people's infectious laughter, the children's unbridled joy, the quiet fortitude in the women's eyes, who carried their world on their shoulders- these stories became etched in my memory. Somewhere beneath that relentless sun, a child's plea for help may echo across the land, a testament to the communities' perpetual need for medical support.

Reflecting on my dual roles, I express gratitude for the privilege of working with MSF. "The work they are doing is beyond amazing," I emphasize, recognising the impact of humanitarian efforts in communities like Ulang.

My journey, as a nurse and being part of the MSF team in Ulang was a humbling journey of shared purpose, where I learned as much as I offered. Witnessing MSF's tireless work there, I felt the weight of responsibility and the humbling knowledge that even a single thread woven, a bandage applied, could make a difference.  For a part of me, a part forever marked by the river's rhythm would always belong to South Sudan. And maybe, one day, the Sobat would call me back, and I'd answer, my boots sinking into the mud, my heart ready to dance to its wild and wondrous symphony of South Sudan.