In a remote region of the Nuba Mountains, you will find Dr. Ahmed Zakariah treating patients in a small, concrete structure. From first glance outside, one would never imagine that it houses a small hospital facility inside, including a waiting room, operating area, and maternity ward.
Despite its size, Dr. Ahmed’s hospital in the town of El Gigaiba is in fact one of only two facilities in the entire region with medical capabilities to serve a population of over 750,000 people.
A Nuban-born native, Dr. Ahmed had the opportunity to study medicine abroad on scholarship, but deferred in order to stay with the land and people for whom he has a deep-rooted love. “If I run,” he postures, “who will come?” Instead, he completed his medical studies over an eleven-year period, hindered by stints where he was jailed for opposing the Islamic government, which is intolerant of non-Muslims and has made attempts to claim the more fertile land found in the Nuba region.
Yet he didn’t waver from his commitment to stay in Nuba and provide direly needed medical treatment for the people living here. He says he learned from examples of Christian civil rights leaders in the US that “despite the darkness you face and the darkness you live in, the light is coming. The sun will rise one day.” And so he continues to hope for peace and endures the risks and challenges of working in such a volatile area, to offer vital medical services as well as hope to a struggling people.
Indeed, Dr. Ahmed brings light to the patients he treats every day. He remembers being in the village when the armies came through during South Sudan’s civil war. He took 17 pieces of shrapnel in his arms and legs that day, but pushed through the pain as his overriding thought was to get to the hospital in order to help the other injured. “I have to treat the patients,” he said.
Dr. Ahmed’s dedication to serving the needs of a people where the demand is always greater than the supply is nothing less than heroic. People walk for days or endure hours-long hot, dusty vehicle rides over bumpy roads to come to his hospital in El Gigaiba for help. “I stayed until now, helping them, sharing their pain, and even if I die with them, I’ll be happy.”
Dr. Ahmed spent time working alongside missionary doctor Tom Catena, the lone surgeon who runs Mother of Mercy Hospital hundreds of miles away. Because the Nuba Mountains area is so vast, they believed they could reach more people if Dr. Ahmed were to open a separate treatment facility all the way in El Gigaiba, rather than remain to support Dr. Tom at Mother of Mercy. Sudan Relief Fund has supported Dr. Ahmed’s hospital from the beginning, including funding some of the very first beds that were installed.
Of many challenges, he says the most difficult one he faces is not being able to treat someone he could help, for lack of needed medicines or supplies. It’s a continuous challenge to keep enough supplies on hand to meet the ongoing need, and his hospital is completely dependent upon the gifts of donors and supporters to continue operating, for which he is grateful. It reminds him of the goodness and hope that exists in the world.
“As human beings, we have to respect each other. We are the same. One humankind. And I hope one day we can live in peace.” In the meantime, he strives to better people’s lives one day at a time, one patient at a time, for the community of El Gigaiba and the Nuban Mountain region.