Jeremiah's Story: Why He Risked His Life for a Notebook

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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The Sudd swamp of South Sudan can be deadly, but it offered Jeremiah his only chance of survival. When he heard gunfire approaching, he hid underwater, just his mouth and nose above the surface.

For hours, while he waited for the whir of bullets to subside, his thoughts turned to two questions: First, had his wife and children made it to safety? Second: The notebook he’d risked his life for—would he be able to find it once the shooting stopped?

Jeremiah's Story
Why he risked his life for a notebook.
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JEREMIAHS STORY

**Why he risked his life for a notebook.**

KickerThis is a kicker.

When Jeremiah fled for his life, he thought of two things: his family, and a small, worn notebook, its pages covered in blue ink. As the surrounding violence closed in, he ran with his wife and two children to the Sudd swamp in South Sudan. The Sudd can be deadlythick with mosquitoes, stiflingly hot, and choked with vegetation. But it offered them cover, and their best chance at survival.

> **I had no idea how long we were going to have to run for.**

In a backpack, Jeremiaha Doctors Without Borders HIV and tuberculosis counselorcarried the antiretroviral medications vital to his HIV/AIDS patients lives, and that small notebook that he was willing to guard at great personal risk. We were very afraid, remembers Jeremiah. I had no idea how long we were going to have to run for. Once it was safe enough for his wife and children to go on, they left for the Bentiu protection of civilians camp approximately 80 miles away. But Jeremiah stayed behind. There were patients who needed the medicine he had stashed in his backpack, and he knew that their continued treatment was as much a matter of life and death as the bullets that whistled overhead.

 

**That day was very difficult.**

 

In some regions of South Sudan, over six percent of adults live with HIV, but _**barely six percent of those adults**_ receive the life\-saving medication they need due to scarcity of care and intense stigma. For those who do receive care, their unique medical histories are vital to understanding the treatment they need. There were 120 HIV\-positive patients receiving treatment at Doctors Without Borders Leer hospital before it was looted in May 2015, and a wave of violencestemming from a conflict that has raged in South Sudan since 2013forced thousands of people to flee. _**Inside that notebook that Jeremiah held dear were the last remaining patient recordspainstakingly handwritten in blue inkfor every single one of those 120 people.**_

> **I came out from my hiding place and I was struggling to get the bag.**

 

For four months, Jeremiah took refuge in the swamps and bush of South Sudan. He recalls one occasion when he was fleeing a group of armed men. His water\-soaked backpack kept getting caught in the tall grass and slowing him down. He quickly stashed the backpack in a section of reeds and hid underwatersurviving by keeping just his mouth and nostrils above the surface for hours. _**It wasnt until after dark that the shooting finally subsided.**_ I came out from my hiding place and I was struggling to get the bag, says Jeremiah. It was lost in the dark, there was a lot of grass, and there were mosquitoes biting me everywhere. He finally located the bag, and laid the notebook out to dry so that his patients records would be preserved. That day, he says, was very difficult. His efforts paid off when he ran into a group of his former patients also taking shelter in the Sudd. They had lost their emergency packs containing three months worth of medication that Jeremiah had given them when the fighting had moved dangerously close to the Leer hospital. Using the records hed saved and the medication in his backpack, he was able to give each of them the life\-saving medicines they needed. When they saw me and received their medicines, they were so happy, says Jeremiah. They said Jeremiah you are safe!

 

**You keep that goat.**

After four months, Jeremiah made his way to Juba, and eventually to the Bentiu protection of civilians camp where he reconnected with his family, the Doctors Without Borders medical team, and more of his former patients who had reached safety. Using the notebook, he was able to re\-enroll these patients in their essential treatment regimens.

> **One man was so happy he even offered to buy me a goat.**

But many other patients who were treated at the Leer hospital and were now at the camp hadnt yet sought care because they were afraid of coming forward. That was until they heard Jeremiahs voice on a Doctors Without Borders announcement over the radio. _**Their bond of trust with Jeremiah overcame their fear of stigma.**_ Within one week, about 10 patients came to the hospital to go back onto their treatment, says Jeremiah. One man was so happy he even offered to buy me a goat. But I said to him: you keep that goat for now, just get better first.