Nyomon Lilian will never forget the day she decided to become a midwife. “Watching my neighbor die during childbirth emboldened me to make the decision to enroll in midwifery,” says the 25-year-old. “The woman assisting her had no knowledge of what to do.” A few years ago, in her hometown of Kajo Keji, in South Sudan’s Equatoria region, Lilian watched as her neighbor bled out after giving birth. The mother was rushed to the hospital but it was too late. She died, leaving behind five small children. Although Lilian says it was a life-changing moment, she admits that it wasn’t the first time she had seen a woman die during childbirth. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” she says. “Women dying because of bleeding.”
When Lilian heard on the local radio station about the midwifery scholarship programme being offered by the SMS Project, she applied that same day. Currently in her second year of a three-year midwifery course, the eager student and her 58 classmates haven’t had it easy. Studying in a war zone is complicated at best and fatal at worst. When fighting broke out in Lilian’s hometown in Kajo Keji early in 2017, she and the rest of the students in the school were forced to flee.
Nyomon Lilian a midwifery student from Kajo Keji during practice at the Juba Teaching Hospital Juba south Sudan.
Nyomon Lilian, Kajo Keji midwifery student during practice at the Juba Teaching Hospital.
When clashes broke out, most of the people in town fled to the bush. Lilian and her classmates had no patients left to treat and began to fear for their lives. “We heard gunshots in the school. I took my uniform and left behind my books and everything else,” she narrates. What worried her more than the bullets was the possibility of not being able to go back to school and complete her midwifery studies. “I was really sad,” she says. Lilian and her classmates sought refuge in Uganda until the SMS Project decided to relocate the class to South Sudan’s capital of Juba.
“I feel a lot better now that we’re back in school,” says Lilian. Although it’s not the same as being at home, the young student says she just wants to absorb all she can in order to help those back in her community. Having only begun her second year, she’s not yet able to do practical training. However, one Saturday, Lilian took advantage of the program’s “open days” and participated in one of her first deliveries. Elated, Lilian says she loves babies and can’t wait to do more.
In the meantime, she’s learning about the causes of death that affect thousands of women across South Sudan. She says one of the biggest obstacles in combatting the high maternal mortality rate is the widespread ignorance among rural communities. “People don’t know about hemorrhaging. Mothers are also not aware that they need to eat well and treat illnesses like malaria when they are pregnant,” she says. Lilian now encourages mothers living in remote towns to get antenatal check-ups, especially if they’re experiencing unusual symptoms during pregnancy. When the fighting subsides, she hopes to return to Kajo Keji and support women in her hometown so that she won’t have to witness a generation of children grow up without mothers.
Kajo Keji midwifery students during practice at the Juba Teaching Hospital Juba south Sudan