From Somerset to Sudan

NAME: Naomi Tilley

PROFILE: Nurse for Basic Health Health Centre, Western Upper Nile, Sudan

JOB DESCRIPTION: Work as part of a team of 8 international staff and national staff to run basic health care centre and five outreach units. Current activites include outpatient and inpatient care, TB treatment, kala azar treatment and support to traditional birth attendants.

SPECIFICATIONS: Able to work in close cooperation with other team members and national medical staff; Willing to take on a wide variety of tasks; Flexible and social attitude; Great love of snakes, scorpions, mosquitoes and other bugs.

"I'll never forget when a patient was brought into the clinic on the back of her brother. He had carried her across the Nile for six days in the baking heat. I don't know how they made it. The girl was twenty years old but weighed less than 30kg &#– I'd never seen anything so skinny in my life. Her name was Nimal and she had been suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting for months. This should have been treated easily but with no access to medicine it can be a killer. And to tell you the truth I didn't think this girl would live.

My proudest moment was when she proved me wrong. We treated her as best we could and sure enough after three months she was able to walk out of the clinic on her own two feet. I almost cried.

It's moments like that that keep you going when you're feeling down or wondering what you're doing here. And I look to my team for strength and support. All the staff are exceptional &#– the international doctor I work with is a great inspiration - but the national staff are fantastic too. Because of the war there's been almost no opportunity for education and they only have the most basic medical knowledge. But they have a nice way of looking at life and I really appreciate that.

The best time I ever had was when we were building the TB clinic and were sleeping in tents in the hospital grounds. You'd crawl out to brush your teeth in the morning to see all the faces of your patients peering down at you. There was absolutely no privacy but it was a riot. I've never laughed so much in my life.

When I'm tired I nearly always have a cry followed by a beer. I miss my friends and family.

I dream of snakes coming into my hut at night. There were two in the toilet the other day and I almost died.

I crave good wine and chocolate. A nice bath. To wear a jumper.

I cringe when the people back home look at my feet after months here. But you get over it. And there's ways to make it easier.

I treat myself with &#‘beauty Sunday'. It's something we all do to unwind and it's good team bonding. Funny too. We lie there in the African scrub with mud packs on our faces and a drink in our hand (luke warm beer mind you). Even the boys get involved.

The most challenging thing about the work for me is not so much the medical side but the human resources. I supervise about 40 national staff and have to manage their time as well as my own. Can Christine swap rotas with Judith? Can Jon go on holiday next week? I've never had that kind of responsibility before but I'm learning and getting better. They're good skills to have.

Naomi with patientsWhat I love most though is seeing the patients improve. We have a lot of cerebral malaria patients coming in, fitting and in a critical state. But with proper medication and quality care we can save them. To see patients get better because of the treatment you are giving them is incredibly rewarding.


Twenty years from now I'd like to be married with children. And still working as a nurse.

My one piece of advice to any prospective volunteers is to go for it. MSF is the only organisation that goes to places like here &#– look around - there's no one else here. But make sure you have a good sense of humour and are flexible. It can get pretty crazy round here."