The young South Sudanese lady who talks people back into embracing life

At 24 years, Awut Michael Ajang is someone people can call upon in their time of distress and find healing.
Awut Michael Ajang poses for this photo at the MSF head office in Malakal. Photo by Okech Francis

By Okech Francis

At 24 years, Awut Michael Ajang is someone people can call upon in their time of distress and find healing.

The South Sudanese lady is a psychologist who works to elevate the mental health problems of countless people across the country helping them in dealing with especially trauma, a problem recurrent among the people after years of war.

Ajang works with the health charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres as a mental counselor and is always on the move, traversing places including the most hard to reach in the countryside.

She is a confidant of thousands of South Sudanese who seek redress from MSF over psychological and other mental problems.

Ajang believes her work is most suited for the person she is, a trait from her days in school where she has been a leader at different levels.

From Primary 2 as a class monitor, rising through the ranks to assistant head girl in Primary 5, Ajang molded her personality around leadership that saw her excel as one of the best performing students, even at the secondary level.  “I was one friendly prefect that everybody would seek advice from, everybody would like to talk to,” Ajang told The Dawn in an interview at Malakal town recently.

Born to a humanitarian worker, she could get the opportunity to try out providing services in difficult environments at a young age in 2020, partly due to the COVID-19 restrictions and as well helped along by her father.

Schools were closed and Ajang would continue the course in psychology she had enrolled in, online. “My father was working here in Malakal with an NGO so he was like okay, since you want to do something as well as you be studying, you can come,” Ajang said. “I came to Malakal and started with teaching. I was a teacher for 3 months and then got another job with an aviation company,” she said. “I was continuing with my studies because they were introduced online.”

By 2021, Ajang got a job with MSF and has never looked back. “I found that because of the crisis that we went through, there are a lot of traumatic events that really happened in the country and the suicide rate is really very high,” Ajang said. “I applied with MSF, got the job and started to work as a mental health counsellor.”

She admits that while still pursuing the psychology course, she was already feeling a pull factor on getting down to work. “I started developing this feeling because the course that I was doing, I realized I could save a lot of lives through talking,” Ajang said. “There is this one moment you are like you have saved somebody through talking, listening, you are giving room for somebody to express their feelings and emotions,” she said.“See, there is this one person that attempts once and then calls me and then I am like, oh my God, I have saved somebody’s life-and it’s not like one or two, there are a lot of lives (saved).”

Ajang arguably overcame the South Sudanese traditional attribute to women which relegates them to the backyard. Communities have created a make-believe that the duties of women are domestic, taking care of the home and children. Getting over such negative norms, Ajang was helped along by the father. “My father was this committed man who wanted to see success in me, my future bright and all that,” she said. “He is this one person that sometimes I don’t see like a father but somebody I can go to and discuss matters with, somebody I find comfort in so he is more of everything apart from being a dad,” Ajang said. “He is a friend, he is my friend.”

Going back memory lane, Ajang believes she was molded by the leadership skills she used at school. “I think I was always this one funny girl and I was more of a jumpy person,” Ajang said. “You know that type of a lifestyle, you are more like interactive and all that.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *