not only cause tragedies, they also bring out the best in
people. Such is the case in Lokichokio where sacrifices are
being made every day by men and women who come from different
corners of the globe to help save the lives of the victims
of a war few people know of or care about.
Among them is a 43-year-old Thai nurse, Orasa
Petkong. In February this year she took leave from her post
at the Chu-lalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok to fulfil the Thai
Red Cross Society’s only field involvement with the
At first sight, the soft-spoken nurse would
hardly be labelled adventurous. For her, going to the refugee
camps on the Thai-Cambodian border in the early 1980s to treat
war-wounded Khmers was about as adventurous as she got –
or so she thought.
Lokichokio is different. Here she is without
her Thai colleagues, alone in an unfamiliar environment half
a world away, speaking a language with which she has to struggle
in order to make herself understood.
For six months she will have to endure harsh
living conditions and brave a dozen exotic diseases in a place
where progress has made little difference. Yet, this is her
second mission to Lokichokio. After a first stint in 1994,
she asked the Thai Red Cross to send her back to the ICRC-run
Born in Surat Thani province, Orasa began working
for the Thai Red Cross Society’s Relief Division soon
after her graduation from its nursing college in 1974. She
is not the first Thai nurse to volunteer to go to Lokichokio,
but the only one to do so twice. “I have skills and
know that with my small part I can help save lives,”
Orasa says simply. “It’s gratifying to know that
I’m doing something worthwhile.”
At Lopiding, as the field hospital is known,
Orasa is one of two operating-theatre nurses who help surgeons
perform thousands of operations on war victims flown in from
different parts of southern Sudan, where Sudanese government
forces have been fighting rebels for territorial control for
more than a decade.
“This is a war-surgery hospital, and most
patients have surgical complications that are rarely seen
in Bangkok,” she points out. “Many have gunshot
wounds that are badly infected by the time they are brought
to the hospital. When gangrene sets in, the dead tissues have
to be removed and sometimes the limb has to be amputated.”
Yet many patients refuse to have the part amputated.
“They are sent back home, because the doctors can no
longer do anything for them,” she says. “They
don’t understand that the infection spreads to other
parts of the body. Soon after, they die.”
At the hospital Orasa’s day starts around
8 a.m. and, with lunch and dinner breaks, she often works
late into the night, depending on the number of patients brought
in from the field that day. Alternately, she splits 24-hour
on-call duty with the other operating theatre nurse.
She shares a two-room bungalow with a Kenyan
nurse at the Lokichokio base camp about four kilometres from
the hospital. Her other colleagues come from all over the
world, from the far north of Finland to remote south New Zealand.
Orasa’s daily activities revolve around the hospital
and the base camp. Social activities are virtually non-existent.
“I seldom go out of the ICRC camp because it’s
not very safe, especially at night,” she says. “There
is nothing much to do here, except talk to each other at meal
Orasa says English continues to be her main drawback, especially
when she needs to interact with her fellow workers. Compared
with her first mission here in 1994, however, she says her
English has greatly improved but is still not enough to make
her “new found friends” gain an insightful understanding
of her. Because of her professional abilities, however, she
has earned the respect of her colleagues.
“War is cruel and the situation in southern Sudan is
very sad,” Orasa says. “It’s unfair so many
innocent people are paying for somebody else’s war.”
Niphat Taptagaporn is the ICRC’s Media Liaison Officer
based in Bangkok.