Sarah Rubino is an international volunteer currently serving in Nzara, South Sudan. She is a nurse and midwife helping improve health services and care for pregnant women and babies at St. Therese Hospital

In this piece, she talks about celebrating Christmas in Nzara, South Sudan and shares a video of moments captured during this joyous day.

Do They Know It’s Christmas Time At All in South Sudan?

Early on Christmas morning, I walked down my usual path to the hospital to check on some kids in the pediatric ward.  At first glance, it looked like just a normal beginning to a villagers’ day – children gathering water at a pump, mothers tending to fires for the morning meal, fathers preparing for a day’s work, taking advantage of the dry season to re-thatch their roofs or lay the mud bricks to a new hut.

Moments captured on Christmas day in South Sudan.

As I looked closely, however, I noticed that there was something a little different in the air on this particular morning.  Progressing on my walk, I noticed more people wearing their Sunday best, older grandmothers gathering flowers for the Christmas Mass, and children excitedly practicing the songs they would sing at church.

After I finished rounds on the pediatric ward, I made it to the morning church service and was struck by the joyfully simple Christmas celebration of Nzara. There aren’t any stores to buy gifts, trinkets, or Christmas decorations for many miles. Roads here are made of dirt and filled with pot holes (sometimes as big as vehicles themselves), making traveling a tedious and expensive process. Buying gifts is also difficult because many people earn around 50 cents to a dollar a day. Most must make do with what they have and, if they are able, on special holidays like Christmas, appreciate the opportunity to indulge on a bit of meat for supper and a few pieces of hard candy.

The night before, I fell asleep listening to the beginning of the Christmas festivities. It was filled with dancing, singing, and drums that went late into the night. And for the morning Christmas mass, I was greeted at the entrance to the church by beautifully handmade arches covered in flowers. Hanging from the ceiling were stars cut from colored paper – a rarity here in Nzara.

Martin Rubino in the middle

Sarah captures a photo of her husband and fellow volunteer, Martin Rubino, in the middle of the celebration!

The nativity was a handmade scene with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus next to thatched roof huts, just like the houses in the village. The handmade decorations reminded me so much of my Great Grandma Hankins. She was the product of the great depression and would save little things that you or I would likely discard. I remember how I loved to play in her basement as a child, surrounded by bottle caps, straws, ribbons, and scraps of fabric – all items perfect to make necklaces or ornaments. In the church, all the simple decorations were made with what little the people had, which made them all the more special.

Nativity at church in South Sudan

Because Christmas in Nzara does not contain big gifts under a Christmas trees, or houses covered in lights, or other material symbols that -at least for us – indicate a celebration, one could mistakenly assume that people here don’t know it’s Christmas time at all.

But it is filled with laughter and dancing, and it is celebrated as a community together. The joy, undistracted by commercials and not hidden under wrapping paper, becomes all the more palpable.

Sarah and Martin Rubino are just two of our many volunteers who are helping us deliver on our mission of healthier lives worldwide. Are you interested in joining our team of international volunteers? Learn more today.