hope for the hopeless

My flight is supposed to leave in less than an hour, we are pressed for time, but Costanza grabs my arm and calls my attention to the little girl, gasping for air in the rusted metal bed near the entrance of the children’s ward at Yei County Hospital. She is hooked to a breathing machine - a rare site in Southern Sudan (though not a machine to write home about). Her little chest holds a mechanical rhythm - heaving suddenly then spasming twice as the air leaves her body.


Her name is Alice, a 5 year old orphan who lost her mother to HIV several years earlier. The kind man at the ward desk explains that her body is struggling to fight off a respiratory infection - likely pneumonia, TB or both - because HIV, contracted from her mother, has left her fragile immune system in shambles.

Without the machine, her body won’t be able to breathe on its own. Thankfully, the hospital has electricity... for now. However, all that changes at midnight - if she makes it that long.

Really, it’s a hopeless situation and, on the surface, Alice’s story seems to parallel the story of Sudan.

On the day before my departure I learned the government closed all public offices making it impossible for me to get the proper permissions, permits and escorts to do photography in the hospital as I’d planned. So, Costanza - a medical doctor and missionary from Germany - and I went the evening before to ask questions and get an understanding of what Yei’s only hospital was up against so I can focus on shooting before heading to the airport.

We sat in the same children’s ward visiting with a Ugandan trained Sudanese nurse named Cecilia. She explained that the hospital was underfunded and understaffed - in most cases, patients are admitted, diagnosed and then their escort is asked to go to a local pharmacy to get basic supplies, like IV fluids, syringes and medications - things the hospital can’t afford to keep in stock - before they begin treatment.

Cecilia earns about $100 a month & at present the hospital is about four months behind on paying her.

I asked why she keeps coming and she looked down at her hands - a typically giant Sudanese smile crossed her face, “because this is my profession,” she looks at me, “and if I don’t come, who will?”

I’m just a few hours removed from Alice’s bedside - it’s 9pm and I know that in three hours Yei hospital won’t have power. On the surface, Sudan’s situation, like Alice’s, seems hopeless, but under the surface, this is a country full of people like Cecilia and that gives me hope for their future.