Those who work with the Sudanese doctors say the difficulties are a reflection of the incredible struggles they have faced since embarking from Sudan more than 20 years ago. They've essentially been orphaned three times: by their families, by their own country and by their adopted country, Cuba. Then they had to fend for themselves in Canada.
Since they've come to Kenya, others have chafed at Dr. Shannon's decision to abandon a timeline and decide that the doctors would be sent back only when they are ready. The program had originally been expected to finish this autumn, but will now go well into 2008 before all the doctors are ready. Some may never be ready and will return home to do other work.
They are also making far less money than they did working at meat-packing plants in Canada. Samaritan's Purse has recently announced it will give each of them $1,000 as they set up in Sudan, but the charity is still seeking donations to raise the $160,000 it needs to continue the program once they return to south Sudan.
For the past year, the doctors have been at five hospitals across Kenya, learning how to treat the kinds of illnesses that they will confront most often in south Sudan, which has some of the worst health indicators in the world. Life expectancy is 46 years, and people are subjected to a host of illnesses, among them tuberculosis, cholera and malaria.
The health-care system in south Sudan is nearly non-existent. It's now estimated that there is about one doctor for every 192,000 people and many of those aren't clinically active. (In Canada, the ratio is closer to one for every 600 people).
Still, Sudan is the place that Dr. Deng and the others dream of returning to. Some of the south Sudanese friends they left behind in Canada could not believe that they would want to return.
"They are saying, 'You guys are crazy; here you have everything, why do you have to go back?' " Dr. Simon Mori said. "For many people, it's hard to understand that, but we understand exactly. If we don't come back those people will stay in this position forever, but if we come back we can make them dream that at the end of the tunnel, there will be a light. Because up to now, they don't have any dream."
Many became Canadian citizens, and are returning to a country that they have not known for years, where life is harder than almost anywhere else on the planet.
"It has been a long time, we have very little picture of it," Dr. Deng said. "Some people might go and feel disappointed, that will be the first impression, but I think they will remind themselves, 'This is my mission, this is my mission and I've come to make a change.' "
The doctors have grown tired of delay. They have been trying too long to give up now. And they say that after so many foreigners have gone to south Sudan to help, it is their turn.
"It was very wise of Garang to send the younger people to the West to get an education and the older ones go to war to fight on the front lines," said Dr. Simon Mori, who has spent more time living in Cuba and Canada than in his homeland, and planned to return last week.
"We think we can make a difference, and the only way to make a difference is to go to south Sudan and help our own people."
A history rife with conflict
Sudan, the largest country in Africa, was ruled jointly by Britain and Egypt from 1899 until achieving independence as a parliamentary republic at the beginning of 1956. Since then, it has been ruled by a succession of unstable civilian and military governments.
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