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In Sudan, the Daily Battle to Provide Aid

Julius Lanya, a Kenyan nurse in Nyala, Sudan, treats Haja Hamid, 12, for vitamin deficiency. Aid workers in the region report harassment by officials, rebels and bandits.
Julius Lanya, a Kenyan nurse in Nyala, Sudan, treats Haja Hamid, 12, for vitamin deficiency. Aid workers in the region report harassment by officials, rebels and bandits. (By Emily Wax -- The Washington Post)

Lanya's experiences led him to the field of humanitarian aid, which has taken him all over East Africa in the last decade as a nurse with such groups as Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children. He said it was important for educated Africans from peaceful countries to help those at war.

"After the amputations I just felt it deeply, this pull to help," he said. "As a nurse, I was needed. At least it was doing something. I couldn't just let the nightmares of the realities on the ground haunt me. It was better to stay active."

During his travels, Lanya met his wife, a Kenyan nurse who lives there with their two daughters. Often he works intensively for 12 to 15 months, then takes several months off.

"I really missed my Tuskers and used to join the others in complaining nonstop about that," he said, referring to a popular Kenyan beer. "But then, watching those who were suffering, I realized that those extracurricular activities were not mandatory for every day. There were other things that were of importance."

Lanya also said he learned to be careful to stay out of politics, especially during a recent posting to southern Sudan, where African rebel groups fighting the Arab government were believed to be backed by Kenya. Some African aid workers were even accused of running guns for the rebels and giving them extra food.

Lanya said he was warned by his employers not to take sides, because he could be deported or even killed. But soon after he arrived, rebels from the Sudan People's Liberation Army stole two cars from his aid group -- then came back and threatened him with guns.

"They told me to restore medical care to certain areas that they themselves had cut off," he said, laughing as he recalled protesting that he had lost his transportation. "Then they returned a car."

The incident reinforced his belief that there are no good or bad parties in a war, and that he should just focus on the victims.

"I didn't know at first being a nurse could be so complicated," he said. "But I kept thinking of the Somalis fighting and weeping to get over the border. I thought, I will really sweat in this job. But it will be worth it."

'Emotions Aren't Helpful'

Five months ago, Lanya arrived in Darfur, in the city of El Fasher. On his first night, he saw a village on fire. He remembers the smell of straw huts burning, along with teapots, sandals and blankets. He remembers the women with babies on their backs, screaming and running.

The government said its troops were fighting rebels who were using civilians as human shields; the rebels claimed to be defending the local populace. Witnesses said government forces burned the villages in retaliation for a rebel attack. But neither side came to help the women, Lanya recalled.

"I thought I had really seen a lot. But at this, I really felt trauma," he said, referring to the sight of people being displaced from their homes and land. "As an African, I also really understood the value of their animals being taken. To me that was like robbing their bank."


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