Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Southern Sudanese Medical Students

Students in Juba, Southern Sudan
A note from Thomas F. Burke, MD, FACEP
Chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Global Health and Human Rights
Written from Juba, Southern Sudan

February 17, 2001

Very emotional morning. I am quite weepy behind the darkest sunglasses I have.

We are deep in the trenches "fighting" for these medical students. They are really struggling. The 5th and 6th year students have been moved down from Khartoum with essentially no plan. 25 of them are here in Juba (the rest are scattered about South Sudan till mid March....The government asked me when we can start teaching again thus we set March 23rd as the opening of Medical School). Most of the 25 are homeless and hungry. But, they'll not tell you.

Every day they get dressed up and try to learn by volunteering at the hospital. They read whatever medical textbook they can so long as there is light. They are truly amazing. They are the epitome of humble.

This morning I was granted an hour meeting with 2 senior government Director Generals, and the 25 5th and 6th year students. The 2 government DGs (who themselves have lived through the war, have lived in refugee camps, etc) were surprisingly hard on them. I then saw that they were testing whether the students were committed, honest, and serious, or whether they were only trying to take from the government and move on.

I could hardly protect them, although was aching to do so. But, then it became obvious that this DG harshness was a thin veneer, below which a vast amount love. At least it was evident to my eyes, but likely not to the students.

Finally, one of the students said, "Dr. Baba, may I speak?" Dr. Baba said, "please". The 5th year student then said, with tears in his eyes, "Dr. Baba, I also have lost a great deal. I have been in refugee camps, my parents and brother were killed. I was a child soldier and most of my classmates here in the room were as well. But, we are desperate. We want to help our people and help heal this country. We work day and night to become good doctors. We are beaten, we sleep outside, and we are hungry. We don't complain and we want to look forward with you. We need help from the new government. We were close to becoming doctors but now know no future."

I am just now going to KCB bank with 8 students in tow to set up a bank account to feed the 25 medical students that are here in Juba on an emergency basis, for at least the next 6 weeks. Even though Juba is more expensive than London, NYC, and Boston the students calculated that they need the equivalent of 6 dollars per day for food and water, and 2 dollars per day for transportation, per student.

We are so so fortunate....

Take good care,


Go to to help.