Staff spotlight: Valentino in South Sudan

May 5, 2017
Written by Anna Scully
Photo by Kieran McConville

Lately there have been a lot of difficult stories coming out of South Sudan, as the country struggles with conflict and famine. But it’s not all bad news. Word recently reached us of a truly exceptional member of our South Sudan team: Valentino Lual Kuac. He started as a security guard — now he’s a project officer in Concern’s nutrition program serving hundreds of thousands of people.

Valentino’s story begins in the rural community of Marial Bai, South Sudan ― a small village in Northern Bahr el Ghazal (NGeB) state, about ten miles from Concern’s base in Nyamlell.

“I had wanted to become a health worker since I was in high school,” Valentino told us. “I have witnessed many cases of communicable diseases in children under five, and we have a high maternal morality rate in our area.” In 2000, Valentino’s wife, Achol Atak, was among the victims. She died during delivery. That experience, Valentino said, pushed him to finally become a health worker.

Assistant Project Officer Valentino Lual Kuac

Pregnant and lactating mothers with their children wait to be assessed by Valentino Lual Kuac – Concern’s Assistant Project Officer, in Aweil, South Sudan. Photo: Kieran McConville

In 2004, Valentino joined our team as a security guard. But it didn’t take long for him to emerge as a promising outreach worker, carrying out health screenings across the community he knew and loved.

Valentino is on a mission to help fill the gap in health professionals, and Concern is supporting him every step of the way.

Health professionals are extremely scarce in South Sudan, where there’s just one doctor per 150,000 people. It’s a critical gap that needs to be filled, but there are very few places for people to get proper training — especially in rural areas.

Valentino is on a mission to help fill that gap, and Concern is supporting him every step of the way.

Six years after he joined the team as a security guard, Concern sponsored Valentino to complete a three-year nursing certificate program at Maridi National Health Training Institute. This was a huge change for Valentino, as the institute was more than 400 miles away from his family, friends, and everything he knew in Marial Bai. But he was more than equal to the challenge.

Nutrition screening in South Sudan

Valentino helps carry out a mass nutrition screening, geared toward pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and children under five in northern South Sudan. Photo: Concern Worldwide

Unwavering dedication

After Valentino completed his diploma in 2013, he returned to NBeG and to Concern, becoming an assistant project officer for nutrition and working with over 160,000 people in Aweil West County.

“Concern has done a lot for the people of NBeG and South Sudan at large, of which I am also a beneficiary.”

“Concern was my first job. So after taking steps to further my career and education, I wanted to rejoin the Concern family,” explains Valentino. “Concern has done a lot for the people of NBeG and South Sudan at large, of which I am also a beneficiary.”

Just last year, Valentino was promoted again — now he’s nutrition project officer for the entire state of NBeG. It would be an impressive career trajectory anywhere in the world, but in a country where 70% of people over 15 cannot read or write, Valentino has beaten some especially long odds.

“I’m actually feeling like a Concern family member. I feel ever proud and ever ready to defend and protect Concern policy wherever I am.”

Right now, South Sudan is in the grip of a food crisis, and famine has been declared in some areas. Conflict is causing huge levels of displacement. Concern is reaching over 400,000 people with massive food distributions, clean water, shelter, and care for severe malnutrition. None of it would be possible without hundreds of passionate, talented, dedicated local staff members just like Valentino, who serve their communities selflessly week after week.

Concern team group shot South Sudan

Valentino (front & center) with Concern team members in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan. Photo: Louise Carroll

“I’m actually feeling like a Concern Worldwide family member” Valentino told us. “I feel ever proud and ever ready to defend and protect Concern policy wherever I am.”

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