A physician who fled bloodshed, starvation and disease as one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” three decades ago is once again at the centre of violence in the volatile region.
On the afternoon of Dec. 18, Mabior Nyuong Bior — a physician who received medical training at the University of Calgary — was treating women in a hospital in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state and the scene of fierce fighting between government troops and rebels in the newly-created nation of South Sudan.
Gunfire erupted outside and the gynecologist and his colleagues scrambled to a safe place to avoid the spray of bullets from militia loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has accused Machar — his longtime political rival — of attempting to split the country along ethnic lines, between Kiir’s Dinka tribe and those with loyalties to Machar’s Nuer group.
“I came out from where I was hiding and I saw dead bodies. The militia was looking for Dinka doctors; they wanted to kill us,” said Bior, speaking Friday morning from the South Sudan capital of Juba.
“My colleague died there. I saw a dog eating him in Bor. It made me cry.”
It was only the beginning of Bior’s harrowing ordeal. On the morning of Dec. 19, he fled on foot with some colleagues into nearby bush, where he lingered out of sight in Bor for days before plunging into the Nile River to avoid militia gunfire.
While bobbing in the crocodile-infested waters, bullets hit a man swimming beside him and the corpses of drowned infants floated by. He managed to evade detection and eventually made it to the nearby town of Werkok, where he was airlifted to Juba by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief agency that provides food, water and other emergency aid in the region.
It marks the second time Bior has fled ethnically-motivated attacks in his homeland. In 1983, he was forced to walk across bush and deserts to escape the 22-year civil war that killed two million people.
But he was one of the lucky ones. Unlike many people in the region — who lingered for years in refugee camps — Bior was one of a few hundred young Sudanese citizens selected to study in Cuba.
He later moved to Canada, but worked menial jobs because his foreign medical degree wasn’t recognized. With the help of funding from Samaritan’s Purse, he completed a nine-month program at the U of C to upgrade his skills.
Despite everything he endured as a boy, Bior decided to practice medicine in the new nation of South Sudan to help people in urgent need of medical care.
A Canadian citizen with a wife and young son, Bior plans to return to the hospital in Bor despite the ongoing political crisis.
“The job I’m doing in South Sudan is very important. It’s helping mothers deliver babies or doing Cesarian sections for women with obstructed labour. It’s an important job and people need me to be here,” he said.
But Bior admits it’s difficult to relive the violence and hatred that destroyed families in the mid-1980s and left a generation of children struggling to find themselves.
Bior doesn’t know what the future holds but he tries not to dwell on the past. “The first time in 1983 was very traumatic to me. It was my first time to see such a thing. This was bad too but now I am in Juba and I’m not thinking about what I saw in Bor. I’m going about life normally talking with colleagues, trying to forget what has happened.”
Samaritan’s Purse spokesman Jeff Adams said the agency is “committed to doing anything we can to try to get Mabior and his colleagues back to serving the medical system in South Sudan as part of the work we do there”.
For more information and to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.