It is World Refugee Week and we’re thrilled to be publishing this story from Médecins Sans Frontières nurse Thok Johnson, which details his journey from refugee to aid worker.
Thok and his family escaped Sudan, fleeing to Ethiopia to a refugee camp where he dreamed of one day working as a nurse to help other people in his situation.
In 2000, after completing his diploma in nursing he returned to Sudan to help his people. This is his story…
By THOK JOHNSON
When I was nine-years-old, my family was forced to escape Sudan. That was in 1986. I still remember the fear that was around at the time. We heard that more and more people in the South were being persecuted and abused, even small children. So almost everybody in our village packed up their belongings and fled to Ethiopia. Many did not make it, they died of hunger or thirst along the way. Some we had to leave behind because they fell ill and there was no clinic or doctor.
We were on the move for a long time, four or five months, before we reached the refugee camp in Ethiopia. I lost my family along the way. I felt so alone. I thought I was the only member of my family to survive and make it to the camp. But eight months later, I met my mother again. She was with my sister and younger brother. I was so happy!
My father wasn’t with them though. It was three years until we had news of him. He was living in Bilpam, a town in what is today South Sudan.
Life in the camp
My sister, brother and I all got sick with measles in the refugee camp. Luckily, there was a tent clinic and we received treatment there. Teams from Médecins Sans Frontières and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency teams were working in the camp. This was the first time that I thought maybe one day I could be a nurse and work for an aid organisation.
It was a dream that was out of reach then. Our reality in the camp was marked by hunger and disease.
I was able to go to school though. We had classes under trees that gave us shade. We didn’t have pens or books, but used chalk to write on cardboard.
Despite the aid, life in the camp was very hard. Many people died, including some of my relatives. My brother Gatkhor was one of them. “Will this nightmare ever end?” we used to ask ourselves.