Macedonian Woman Saving Children in Sudan

Source: Macedonian daily Dnevnik

Translated by UMDiaspora Staff

Milena Jovanova, a nurse, left her life in Switzerland and accepted a position with five-time lower income to go and help victims of the civil war in Sudan.

 Milena Jovanova, originally from Negotino, Macedonia, went to Sudan as a volunteer last year.  Her only contact with the world was her satellite phone, for which she paid the bill herself.  A resilient humanitarian activist, Milena plans to go again on Doctors Without Borders mission, this time to Liberia.

“There are no words that can express the joy I felt when I would see those children happy,” says Milena.

She spent half-a-year in rough living conditions, amongst people with leprosy, tuberculosis, and other contagious diseases.  While she was in Sudan, violence was still rampant and water and electricity were scarce.

The photo album of Jovanova, who is currently staying in Negotino, is full of photographs, memories of her time spent in Africa, where she made many friends with other volunteers and locals.  She likes to tell the story of 10-year-old Adam.

The boy had received severe wounds from a grenade, and we had to amputate his right hand.  He had open wounds all over his body and was hospitalized for a long time.  After the operation, Adam was very depressed and did not want to leave his bed, retold Jovanova.

She took an immediate liking to Adam and nursed him back to recovery, step-by-step.

I took some paints and drew the Macedonian sun on the wall.  I missed it so much then, and I thought I could cheer us both up.  However, once I saw the sad expression on his face, I realized my mistake.  So then I started drawing clouds and rain and he got into a much better mood.  His smile was a precious gift for me.

She tells many stories from the hospital where she worked.  Her kind word and drawings helped many children in their recovery, not only from the physical but also psychological wounds.  She nursed a young girl who was shot in her knee and fed a two-month-old baby that lost his mother to pneumonia.  Among others, she recalls 5-year-old Nasaim and 10-year-old Faiza, who were in the hospital for a long time, suffering from tuberculosis.

“We understood each other through sign language and a few words I learned from the native language.  I also tried to teach them a few Macedonian words,” says the volunteer.

As a token of appreciation, Faiza’s grandmother gave her the only decorative object they owned.

“Every time they would see me they would yell “kavadja” or white person.  When I left I was quite sad, and so were they.  They sent me off with tears.”

In her hamlet in Haliba, a little place in the Sudanese region of Darfur, Milena only had two beds, a table, and a chair.

“As I was leaving for Africa, I found a coin on the ground and I said to myself, this is a good omen.”

To her colleagues and the locals she pointed out Macedonia on the map of the world they had hanging on the hospital wall.

“There were moments when I asked myself:  What am I doing here?  Those were the moments when I missed a glass of red Tikves wine and pizza,” admits Jovanova.

The village where she volunteered had some 20,000 inhabitants.

“The people with leprosy in the village were isolated and rejected by the community.  People were terrified of them for fear of getting infected.  This tragedy only made work for us much more difficult because people would not disclose any information.”

“The largest numbers of diseases were caused due to the lack of food, contaminated water, and poor hygiene.”

Milena says that she is an adventurer by nature who loves to travel and have new experiences.  Even before her mission in Sudan, she had traveled to Australia, New Zealand, India, the United States, and other countries.  She speaks English, French, German, and a basic knowledge of Italian and Arabic.  Apart from medicine and human rights, her interests include ethnology and sociology.

Milena Jovanova lived in Negotino until the age of 16, when her parents moved to Switzerland.  She left for Africa through the non-profit organization Doctors Without Borders, an organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

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