'It is beautiful work.' The only doctor in a remote Sudanese village tells her story - CARE

'It is beautiful work.' The only doctor in a remote Sudanese village tells her story

A woman smiling

Dr. Gisma Awad Hassan Rwah  works in the village of Gorlangbang. All photos by Tessa Bolton/CARE

Dr. Gisma Awad Hassan Rwah  works in the village of Gorlangbang. All photos by Tessa Bolton/CARE

In the aftermath of the Darfur war, the Sudanese village of Gorlangbang was completely isolated for over 10 years. Following the Juba Peace Agreement in 2020, humanitarian agencies were finally able to visit the South Jebel Marra area for the first time. There, they found a huge amount of need, as the population hadn't had access to health, nutrition, water, or education services for over a decade.

The region of South Jebel Marra remains under the control of the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), and there is still no electricity, running water, or reliable phone reception. With the ongoing conflict, the only way to access the village of Gorlangbang is to drive five hours through multiple military checkpoints, followed by a three-hour donkey or camel trek up a mountain.

Over the last year and a half, CARE has brought equipment, supplies, and medicines up the mountain to build the Gorlangbang health and nutrition clinic. Here, CARE has trained and supported local health assistants, pharmacists, midwives, and nutrition assistants, as well as community health volunteers. CARE has also recruited the only doctor in the clinic, Doctor Gisma Awad Hassan Rwah.

This is her story.

Dr. Gisma Awad Hassan Rwah treats patient in a mountaintop clinic..

I am 34 years old and am originally from Nuba Mountain, in the South Kordofan state of Sudan, but now most of my family lives in Khartoum. I am married but have no children, and my husband lives in the USA (South Dakota). Currently, I work as the doctor at Gorlanbang clinic. I have been a doctor for seven years.

Because there is so much need here in this region, I wanted to help people, and so I was the first doctor to come here in over ten years. Now, it has almost been a year, and I feel like I have become part of the community.

I am very safe here, and they tell me they don’t want me to leave. It is very difficult to work and live here though.

It takes a long time to get up the mountain, at least three hours of climbing. Most people use donkeys, but the first two times I was too scared, so I walked the whole way. After that, I became brave enough to take the donkey.

Every six weeks I come down the mountain to stay in the CARE Nyala or Kass offices for two weeks, to work in the office and have some rest from the difficult conditions.

Woman checks medical equipment
Her patients tell Dr. Gisma Awad Hassan Rwah they don’t want her to leave.

‘There is no electricity at the clinic, so if there is an emergency at night, I have to hold a flashlight’

The clinic is open five days a week, and being the only doctor, I am always on call. For any emergency at night or on my days off, I still go and help.

Recently there have been some emergencies late at night or very early in the morning — such as complicated deliveries brought to the clinic, a case of severe malaria, and a child who fell from a donkey and needed his wound sutured with more than 7 stitches. I have also been called to deliver babies in peoples’ homes twice — both times the mother and baby were safe and well.

We provide immunizations to all children and treat trauma and injuries. Goitre (thyroid) issues are also very common up here, due to an iodine deficiency in the water. Even in children, we see this. Skin diseases are also common, from washing clothes in bad water or sharing clothes. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are also common, particularly in women.

I support pregnant women and deliveries. Most women choose to deliver at home with traditional midwives, but we encourage them to come here, as we have drugs and medical support. We also have contraceptive pills at the clinic and encourage women to have gaps between pregnancies.

A typical day

I wake up around 5 a.m. to pray and then go back to sleep. At 7 a.m. I wake up again to start the day. I eat some hot milk and maybe a few biscuits. At 8 a.m. I get to the clinic and start working.

I treat all sorts of patients. Respiratory tract infections are very common here, due to the cool weather and the charcoal cooking fires. Diarrhea is probably the second most common illness. But I also deal with traumas, like lacerations from falling or from being kicked by a donkey. I see some cases of malaria, but not so often, especially at this time of year.

At around noon on a good day, I go back to the CARE guesthouse to eat. On a busy day, I might not eat until 2 p.m. After I go back to the clinic and work until 3 or 4 p.m. when the clinic closes, depending on how busy the day is.

Pain is the most difficult thing in life.

Not everyone in Sudan feels [women can and should be doctors]. Many think there are differences between women and men, and in some ways, there are. Women here are more likely to have no education. They are expected to be in the home, not work outside in jobs like being a doctor or a teacher, and they are supposed to look after the children.

My father passed away, but my mother supported me to study medicine. I studied at Al Fashir University in Darfur, far away from home.

My mother supported me always. She trusted me everywhere I went. Like me, my mother thinks we need to help people everywhere. 

I chose to become a doctor because it’s such an important job. I have saved the lives of many people and can help people in emergencies. As a doctor, I can help people who are in pain, have illnesses, and even experience psychological pain. It is beautiful work.

Pain is the most difficult thing in life. I always feel the need to help people in pain. I think we need to help people everywhere.

The happiness of people makes me smile from my heart. When I feel the people are happy, all my tiredness is gone by knowing people are healthy.

Smiling woman sits outside a building
'The happiness of people makes me smile from my heart.'

To learn more about CARE’s work in Sudan and how you can help, please visit our Sudan relief information page here.