President Jimmy Carter, My Hero and Strength

Makoy Samuel YibiBy Makoy Samuel Yibi, Director, Guinea Worm Eradication Program, South Sudan Ministry of Health

Editor’s note: Makoy Samuel Yibi first met former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1995, after which they formed a strong relationship. In 2008, Yibi received the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Award for Guinea Worm Eradication for his leadership in reducing cases of the disease in what is now South Sudan. He wrote the following elegy for his mentor and hero.

President Jimmy Carter, you represent the true meaning of “HOPE” to the people of South Sudan, even when it is humanly impossible to hope for an exit from the numerous quagmires that we go through since time immemorial.

You were the only man in the world who believed that it is possible to achieve peace in Sudan during the 21-year civil war, and set alight the fire of peace that culminated in the Guinea worm cease-fire, Nairobi peace talks, etc. Your efforts built traction and finally peace was realized in 2005 through the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA).

  • Jimmy Carter waves to crowd while walking alongside Makoy Samuel Yibi.

    Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visits Terekeka County, Southern Sudan, in 2010 with Makoy Samuel Yibi (in blue jacket) at his side. (Photo: The Carter Center/ L. Gubb)

When the dust of war settled, the true burden of the Guinea worm disease was revealed with South Sudan accounting for over 80% of the cases reported globally in 2006. The concept of eradicating Guinea worm disease was initially a hard sell even for the South Sudanese people, who have suffered and seen many of their own agonized, deformed, and dehumanized by Guinea worm. The idea of eliminating the disease completely in South Sudan was viewed as an impossible goal. Again, you, Mr. President, single-handedly and persuasively rallied the whole world and leaders of South Sudan to have faith and commit to the eradication campaign.

Then came the aha moment. In 10 years of concerted efforts by the Carter Center working with the Ministry of Health structures, South Sudan reduced cases by 99.99%. The Carter Center and your name, Mr. President, became household names. It is synonymous with hope, truth, success, self-confidence, hard work, commitment, dignity, prosperity, and freedom from disease and poverty.

  • Makoy Samuel Yibi stands in front of a Stop Guinea Worm sign.

In South Sudan, the success in the fight against Guinea worm disease has instilled such confidence in the minds of the population that The Carter Center is believed to have some sort of mystical strategies to get things done. It is not a surprise that many South Sudanese have wondered why The Carter Center is not given the responsibility to eradicate malaria or any health problem that has proved intractable to control.

During your visit to South Sudan in 2010, the heat and humidity of the dry season was not enough to dissuade you from traveling through the rough road to the last endemic village in Lojora (Terekeka County) and interact with the last case reported there. What a joy for the poorest of the poor population of South Sudan to have a glimpse and interact with the one person who has worked so hard to liberate the world from the scourge of the dreaded dracunculus medinensis.

To say that you are an inspiration for me is an understatement. As one of those privileged to lead the national Guinea Worm Eradication Program, you, Mr. President, made me find purpose in life, and you are my strength. In my office I have your photo with one of our former Ministers of Health, Dr. Riek Gai Kok. Every time my spirit gets low due to the challenges of the eradication campaign, I submit my concerns to you. Many times I got to the point of desperation, and you will tell me, “Makoy, my son, I did not tell you that it was going to be easy, but it can be done, just have faith.”

Thank you, President Jimmy Carter, My Hero and Strength.

This story was originally published on the Saporta Report website.


Video | Meet Makoy Samuel Yibi: Real Lives Real Change

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