The world today is going through the worst humanitarian crisis only equal to what was observed in 1945, the UN says. Without an immediate humanitarian response, twenty million people in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen face starvation.
In countries where insecurity is the order of the day, the situation is even worse. Take for example Sudan’s Nuba Mountains- a conflict zone far away from civilization. The home to 750,000 people has seen the worst of days since war between the Government of Sudan, and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement begun in 2011.
In addition to the war, people in the locality also suffer other challenges. There are sick people that require treatment, injured people whose wounds need tender care, pregnant women who require support through delivery, and sick children who are in dire need of medicine. Amidst all the challenges there are only a few people designated to cater for these needs.
One such person is Dr Tom Catena, a Catholic missionary from Amsterdam, New York who has saved thousands of lives as the sole doctor permanently based in Sudan’s war-ravaged Nuba Mountains.
He arrived in Sudan before the war and when it broke out, he had a chance to evacuate instead he chose to stay. “I’ve never regretted that decision,” says Dr. Catena. “I was needed at that point more than ever. I couldn’t just abandon the people I had gotten to know just as they needed support the most; because it’s the people that count here. What they do never ceases to amaze me.”
And for the last nine years, Dr. Catena- fondly known as ‘Dr. Tom’- has been on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Mother of Mercy Catholic Hospital to care for the more than 750,000 citizens of Nuba amidst ongoing civil war.
Selflessly helping others to not only survive, but thrive
Dr. Catena is known to treat up to 500 patients a day and performs more than one thousand operations each year.
Last Sunday he was recognized and named the 2017 Aurora Prize Laureate at an event in Yerevan, Armenia.
Speaking at the awarding ceremony, Dr. Catena said, “We all have an obligation to look after our brothers and sisters. It is possible that every single person can make a contribution, and to recognize that shared humanity can lead to a brighter future. I draw my inspiration from the Nuba people. And with my faith as my guide, I am honored to continue to serve the world and make it a better place.”
“One day I was treating a woman in her 60s who had fled with her family to hide out in a cave, only to be hit with a shell that destroyed her foot and fractured her thigh bone,” remembers Dr. Catena. “After I amputated her foot and while she was recovering, airstrikes came again. The hospital was hit, and an 11-year-old girl was crying uncontrollably. As they huddled on the hospital floor after the attack, the woman, despite having just lost a limb, was entirely focused on reassuring this poor little girl. This remarkable woman had so much strength despite her terrible pain. The positivity people find in these situations is absolutely incredible.”
In his congratulatory message, Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, co-founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative (AHI), and Aurora Prize Selection Committee member said, “Dr. Catena is an inspiration to anyone who has ever doubted humanity. Despite tremendous injustice and sacrifice, he has dedicated his life to ensuring that the next generation has a brighter future.” He added that his service to others is an inspiration, and they hope that the individuals he has saved will continue the cycle of gratitude by becoming saviors themselves.
This is the second time the doctor has been nominated for the award. He was a finalist for the inaugural award in 2016, but he couldn’t attend the ceremony. This year, he got some three doctors to help in the community while he’s away, enabling him to leave Nuba.
The other finalists included: Fartuun Adan and Ms Ilwad Elman, who championed the rehabilitation of Somalian child soldiers; from Kabul is Jamila Afghani who trained more than 6,000 imams in Afghanistan in women’s rights; and Denis Mukwege a doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo caring for survivors of sex abuse.
The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity is an award established by wealthy Armenian on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, and is named after a woman who fled and became a poster girl of the diaspora. In gratitude to their saviors, an Aurora Prize Laureate will be honored each year between 2015 and 2023.
Dr Denis Mukwege, the founder of the Panzi hospital, gives women and young girls in the DR Congo a chance to live again without pain and trauma.
Dr Catena is treating patients in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains