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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 November, 2004, 12:27 GMT
Aiding Darfur: A nurse's story VII
Trauma nurse Roberta Gately, who works for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) aid agency, tells the BBC News website about trying to help some of the 1.5 million people who have fled their homes in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur.

Baby born at the IRC clinic in Kalma camp
Staff and patients rejoice when healthy babies are born at the clinic

Although Darfur is easily the world's most tormented region, there are moments of pure magic here.

One dreary morning, a young woman, visibly pregnant, came to the IRC clinic in Kalma camp complaining of labour pain.

She was young, perhaps just 20 years old and, aside from her pregnant belly, she was all bones.

The woman had already given birth to four babies, of whom only two had survived.

She came to our clinic to deliver this baby in the hopes that we might help this one to survive.

Lusty wail

We ushered her into our midwife's room where she curled on to her side and quickly fell fast asleep.

I smiled each time I passed her there for sleep was surely blissful to a young refugee mother. Perhaps she was dreaming of her village, her lost babies, her life before the madness set in.

We expected fairly swift progression to birth since these babies are so often so tiny. But the hours passed, the young mother only occasionally stirred and still no baby.

Then, finally, late in the afternoon, the young mother called to us and the lusty wail of a baby filled the air. She had delivered a healthy girl.

Her voice, her soft and gentle touch, calms her patients and eases new life into the desolate existence here

Simultaneously, we were called to the latrine just outside the clinic where another young woman had just given birth to a plump boy.

Both babies appeared to be healthy and both shrieked in protest at their new surroundings.

The staff and patients in the clinic all smiled at the news and the sound of healthy newborn cries. There is no joy quite like that of the promise of a healthy newborn, especially in a place like Darfur.

Our senior midwife, a warm and smiling woman named Seetna, guided these two babies and countless others into life in Darfur.


Seetna has over 30 years of experience delivering babies in the most dismal circumstances imaginable. She has managed it without the benefit of modern equipment.

Her own experience has often been a substitute for delivery tools and her voice, her soft and gentle touch, calms her patients and eases new life into the desolate existence here.

Her laugh and welcoming manner have created a feeling of warmth and joy in her ante-natal and delivery rooms.

Seetna also uses her special touch to alleviate the terrible loss when a young mother dies or loses a baby to the misery here.

Palpable sorrow

She provides much needed comfort and somehow guides people who have already suffered more than anyone ever should, through the hell that is unexpected death and loss.

The middle-aged woman has lived in Darfur for all of her life and though her own village was never attacked, family and friends have suffered greatly. She understands the misery felt here.

I remember one young woman, about 25 years old and six months pregnant, who presented to our clinic bleeding profusely. She was clearly losing this baby.

Newborn baby at the IRC clinic in Kalma camp
Seetna brings babies safely into the world without modern equipment

She had already lost three other pregnancies and had yet to bring a baby to term. Her sorrow was palpable.

Seetna took care first of her medical needs and then quietly wrapped this woman in a compassionate embrace.

The young woman finally gave way to her sadness and cried softly in Seetna's arms.

Seetna's greatest joy is providing reproductive care to the neediest of Darfur. She told me once that she "would do this job without a salary".

Her words were sincere and selfless. She is an inspiration to her patients and co-workers.

Amidst the dirt and dust and darkness of Darfur, Seetna brings a kind of magic to her work, to these people.

The lives she has welcomed, the lives she has saved, and the lives she has influenced, are all forever affected by her very presence.




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