As southern Sudan voted on whether or not to become independent, a baby girl was born after a long journey. Her mother, 26 year old Martha, had strong doubts about making the four-day trip from Khartoum, northern Sudan to Bentiu, southern Sudan, with her four children. She was nearly nine months pregnant, anemic, suffering from malaria and travelling alone.
As she boarded the bus early in the morning on 6 January she was very concerned. Her husband and parents had to remain in Khartoum for now. What would she find in the south? She had no memory of the place she left as a child more than 20 years before.
She worried about when the baby would come, how her other children would go to school, in what language they would study and how she would get money. She worried about the 1,080 kilometre journey as there were whispers of potential unrest.
Small piece of a large migration
Martha’s family are a small piece in the story of a large returning migration from north to south. Many have gone back to have a say on self-determination. The referendum came out of the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Signed on 9 Jan 2005, the agreement brought to an end a 22 year conflict. In October 2010, the Government of South Sudan started to help southerners who were displaced during the war years return.
Overall, 182,446 people have returned to southern Sudan since October 2010. Returning people are arriving at the rate of 2,000 a day.
Martha and her family arrived in Bentiu on 10 January. They were dusty and tired. The last 250 kilometres of the journey are dirt roads. It’s now the height of the dry season with temperatures up to 35C. Martha could feel her delivery was fast approaching.
The strain of the journey to the south has aggravated the already poor health of many returning south Sudanese people. Respiratory infection, malaria and dehydration are the most common problems.
CARE health team
Three days after reaching Bentiu, Martha went to the “Khartoum Clinic”, as the CARE Mobile Health Team is locally known, ready to give birth. Her eldest daughter, 11, accompanied her to the clinic. Both were relieved it was within walking distance of their camp.
Every day the CARE Mobile Team –a clinical officer, nurse, midwife, nutritionist, and health educator – visit places that returning people have settled temporarily.
The midwife and clinical officer, seeing that Martha’s delivery was imminent, took her to Bentiu Hospital Maternity Ward where she delivered a healthy girl.
After seven days, according to local custom, she will be named. The family will start a new life in southern Sudan and await reunion with family members from Khartoum.
Despite the challenges ahead, Martha’s return home will always be marked by joy. The joy of the healthy birth of her daughter with the help of CARE. The joy that her child was born in her homeland, at a time when southern Sudan was involved in an historic vote on self-determination.