By Violet Ikong 

When 23-year-old Omnia Mansour learned in March 2023 that she had been accepted into a nursing school in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, she was thrilled. Her dream of becoming a nurse was now one step closer to becoming reality. But only three weeks later her excitement was cut short by a deadly conflict that erupted between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). In Darfur and Khartoum, the most affected areas of the country, businesses and schools – including her nursing school – shuttered their doors, and after six months still remain shuttered as the rival armies remain locked in a deadly power struggle. 

Over 7,000 lives have been lost due to the conflict, and about 5 million civilians have been displaced. Most of the displaced people are now taking refuge in areas that are safer than Darfur and Khartoum, both within and outside Sudan. Initially, Mansour stayed in Khartoum. “I was locked up with my brothers in our house for over a week without electricity or water, and we heard nothing but gunshots and noises around us,” she said. But then on April 23, Mansour and her brothers fled to Karima, their hometown, located in Sudan’s Northern State.

The young healthcare providers pose for a photograph with friends outside the hospital Photo | Noory Taha

When they arrived in Karima, Mansour saw that the staff of the town’s major hospital – the Karima Teaching Hospital – was struggling to care for the influx of sick, wounded, and traumatized people who were pouring in needing healthcare. Clearly, there were not enough hands to cater to all of them. Prior to the recent conflict, the healthcare system outside of Khartoum was already severely inadequate to the needs of the population, and those who were able, went to Khartoum to access the best healthcare

In the past six months, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 70% of hospitals in Sudan are no longer functional, and scholars worry the country’s healthcare system could be on the brink of collapse if the conflict continues. 

Mansour and one of her friends attending to a patient. Photo | Noory Taha

  Mansour felt herself called to help care for the patients at Karima Hospital, and approached the hospital’s headmaster in late April to volunteer as a healthcare provider. Her request was swiftly granted – but first she spent a few weeks in training. During those weeks she met four other young women who also wanted to volunteer as healthcare providers.The girls soon became friends and worked closely together as they learned how to take care of sick, wounded, and traumatized patients. 

“It was tough treating soldiers and seeing how severely hurt they were, for the sake of our country. I also broke down and got reminded of my late mother each time I witnessed a death,” Mansour said. The other young women also found the going hard.   

“The learning process wasn’t easy. I was afraid of handling difficult cases and attending to pediatric patients,” said 19-year-old Samah Aamer.  

But the five friends became support systems for each other, and didn’t give up. They offered each other encouraging words throughout the training, and by the end, they had learned to administer drugs and injections, dress wounds, and counsel traumatized patients. They haven’t looked back since then. 

  “My friends and I work very hard to bring comfort to the patients in the hospital, not just because it’s our task and responsibility but because it is the right thing to do. We believe that if people find themselves in situations where they can help others, they should do so without hesitation,” Mansour said. 

The young women volunteer at least three days a week at the hospital, for about eight hours each day. For Mansour, the work has helped her get her mind off the ongoing conflict. “Helping patients and working in the hospital has made it easier for me to stop thinking about the war and whether I’ll be able to pursue all the goals that I want to achieve, especially going to nursing school. It has also enabled me to escape from all the depressive thoughts that I initially had,” she said.   

Mansour has grown enormously during the last months, and approaches dying people differently now. “I’m not going to say I’ve gotten used to people dying here, but I have now realized that every minute counts for all the patients here, and if I am mentally and emotionally unavailable, I won’t be able to give them enough care and perform my tasks effectively,” she said. 

Even though she enjoys volunteering at the hospital, Mansour’s greatest wish is for the conflict to end and for peace to return to Sudan. “All I want is peace. I want all the displaced people who fled their homes to return without worrying about the safety of their lives or their loved ones. I wish for Sudanese citizens to live in their country without bullets being shot at them and for women not to be harassed or raped anymore because of conflict. I also want to see all students being able to continue their education and pursue their goals without fear of what tomorrow holds,” she said.