Alia Beatrice Peter is a 2017 graduate of Solidarity with South Sudan’s Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI) in Wau. Previously, she had been a nursery school teacher in Kuron. Now a trained midwife, she has returned to work in the Kuron Health Clinic located some 280 kilometers (174 miles) from Kapoeta Town.
Beatrice says that when she first went to Wau to attend CHTI, everything was new, and she had to struggle to keep up as she had no background in health care. What she learned there has given her a very strong foundation for her work, serving as the only trained midwife in this region.
The health clinic treats mostly Toposa people, and Beatrice manages the Maternal and Child Health Department by herself. She covers ante-natal, deliveries, sick pregnant women, and post-natal duties. The government of South Sudan supplies drugs and medicines to the clinic, but not any personnel. But the quantity and quality of supplies and equipment is not consistent, and many patients have passed away due to simple lack of medicines, advanced equipment, or lack of transport to Kapoeta. This is frustrating for Beatrice, but it is the reality in much of South Sudan.
She recently lost a woman due to a retained placenta. Beatrice knew what needed to be done, but did not have the facilities to do the surgery. She did give antibiotics as she had learned in her training at CHTI, but without surgery the mother was in serious danger. She called Kapoeta, but they have only one ambulance, and it was occupied somewhere else. It takes eight hours on a very rough road to get to Kuron. Sadly, the mother died that night. These events bother Beatrice as she sees it as an unnecessary death.
Beatrice remembers learning so many new things at CHTI. She still has her text books and refers to them often in her work. One thing she remembers from the training is how to do proper and thorough examinations. This has helped her discipline herself and to go step by step to make sure that patients are checked very systematically.
Beatrice also remembers Sister Dorothy Dickson’s nutrition classes, because in this area she sees so much malnutrition among the mothers and the children. Kuron Peace Village is addressing this issue with the introduction of new crops and vegetables, new farming techniques, and helping the Toposa adjust from mostly pastoral lifestyles to agriculture farming.
Beatrice works closely with Traditional Birth Attendants in the area and they now trust her enough to bring all sorts of cases to her. They work together, and in a way she is teaching the TBAs some new things.
It is common for Toposa women to have 10 to 12 children. Beatrice tries to encourage family spacing to give the mother time to recover between each pregnancy, but the culture and traditions are deeply rooted. She also sees a lot of young mothers whose bodies are maybe not ready for birth, but again, early marriage is embedded in the beliefs.
Beatrice is a professional, and she tries not to let her emotions affect her performance. But sometimes cases present which she gets deeply involved in. One such case recently was a young mother ready for delivery who was brought to her having difficulty pushing. The mother was exhausted, and the baby was exhausted. She examined and then decided to let the mother rest for two hours, giving her fluids and some food. When the baby was eventually delivered, it had no life to it. It was so exhausted that it didn’t have reflex actions, eyes were shut, it made no movements or sounds, breathing was barely visible. The case seemed hopeless.
The other women said that they would bury the child. Beatrice refused, and she told the others to pray. She believes that not only by medicine do we save lives, but by the help of our Lord. Then, calling upon all her training, she began to work on the child, even giving mouth-to-mouth. She worked for almost two hours applying all the methods she had learned at CHTI and in her experience. The exhausted mother could only lie on the bed and watch. Beatrice was almost to the point of giving up. Then it happened! By a miracle of God this baby suddenly coughed and sputtered and cried out! Everyone in the room was shocked! It was as if she had brought the newborn back to life. The baby immediately began to suck and within a short time was moving and reacting like any normal baby. The mother was overjoyed.
This event deeply touched Beatrice and strengthened her resolve to never give up easily. The Toposa women have deep esteem for Beatrice. The women have taken to calling her “Mother Kuron” and they have given her a lot of reverence for her work. Beatrice has returned the respect by learning the Toposa language enough so that she can communicate in many situations and especially in the medical field.
When asked how she is different personally after the years at CHTI, Beatrice says she is much stronger spiritually than before. If she has difficult cases, she not only treats but also prays for her clients. This was done at CHTI also. She has seen how prayer can change people, and she feels it is a basis for her doing this work. Beatrice says she is proud to be a graduate of CHTI.
Story by Maryknoll Lay Missioner Gabe Hurrish, project officer for Solidarity with South Sudan. Photo: Beatrice Peter with Gabe Hurrish.