South Sudan: Meet the Emergency Team's Queen

On deployment to remote communities, Queen Taban provides mental health support to displaced people.

"This is my first mission, and I've traveled a long way to come and serve my people,” says Queen Taban, 23. She brings emergency mental health support to people who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and now live in the isolated hills of Maruwo, South Sudan. The counselor is the only female member of Action Against Hunger’s intrepid emergency team, which has been deployed to provide holistic support to displaced families.

"I've always wanted to help people," says Queen. The emergency team members are the first humanitarians in this isolated area – and Queen, the team’s first female member, is up for the challenge.

“’I can do it,' I said to myself. Being a woman doesn't limit you from doing anything at all. As long as you have the passion and the interest, there is nothing that can stop you,” she explains.

In Maruwo, there is little to support a community of hundreds of displaced people - just a small makeshift market. Action Against Hunger is the only organization providing assistance here.

"When I first came, we were happily received by a large number of people. You could see their smiles, they were happy. But behind those smiles, you could also see sadness," recalls Queen.

"The first thing that I thought of when I arrived in Maruwo was that I have to create awareness. In my counselling sessions, I give psychological first aid. There are some people who are stressed, some people who have lost spouses and children during the conflict, others don't even know the whereabouts of their family."

"When I first came, we were happily received by a large number of people. You could see their smiles, they were happy. But behind those smiles, you could also see sadness," recalls Queen.

"The first thing that I thought of when I arrived in Maruwo was that I have to create awareness. In my counselling sessions, I give psychological first aid. There are some people who are stressed, some people who have lost spouses and children during the conflict, others don't even know the whereabouts of their family."

Queen Taban is the only female member of Action Against Hunger's multisectoral emergency team.

Photo: Peter Caton
for Action Against Hunger,
South Sudan

Queen offers mental health support to those who have experienced recent trauma and loss. Her work is deeply intertwined with the services provided by the rest of the emergency team, including water, sanitation, food security, nutrition, and health care.  

"Most places where the emergency team goes are remote areas. And most of those remote areas are affected by conflict. In these areas, there are many traumatized people."

When the emergency team started their work in Maruwo, most people flocked to the team's health and nutrition facility, but many ignored the assistance Queen was offering, "In a remote area like this, people don't know about mental health support," explains Queen.

Queen started raising awareness about her counseling services and got to know the community. Little by little, people began showing up under the tree where she stationed herself for counselling sessions. Three women from the community showed interest in learning how to counsel their peers, so Queen took them under her wing and started training them. With the support of these women, Queen built trust, approached more people, and began to address more sensitive topics.

"The aim of the counselling session is to help people cope with the situation they're living in right now. We ensure that there is privacy, because many would not come because they fear someone might hear them. After some time, people feel a bit more comfortable and, after a while, they feel that there is someone to listen to them and who sees them."

During her sessions, Queen listens to people who express grief for what they have lost in the conflict and hears about the difficulties of starting over in a new land after losing a spouse or a parent. In this safe space, Queen also discusses issues of gender-based violence, such as child marriage, and provides health education to young people.

"I go to our health facility and I sit under my tree, usually on a mat to be on the same level with the people, and when someone sees me, they come for counselling. Getting to talk to people is quite challenging, but I can't stop. I have to bring this awareness."

Queen talks with young women about menstrual heath and hygiene.

Photo: Peter Caton
for Action Against Hunger,
South Sudan

Once or twice a month, Queen holds sessions for teenagers. In Maruwo, there is no school and young people don't have any way to learn about their changing bodies. Queen organizes gatherings where she offers teenagers health education and provides a place where groups of girls can talk about menstrual health.

"Girls used to be all shy, nobody wanted to say anything about their experience. But nowadays, when I ask questions, I get two or three of them who want to talk. This is great because it is a topic people fear talking about openly."

"Before we came here there was no health facility. No nutrition education. No education to girls. No health and hygiene sensitization. So, we came here to help," says Queen.

This is Queen's first time working as a member of the emergency team, and it’s a challenge that has reaffirmed her commitment to humanitarian work.

"Coming for a first deployment, the thought that many people are counting on you gives you hope, strength, and courage to deliver more of your services. It's all about believing in yourself. If you know that you have a goal to accomplish, there is nothing that can stop you."

Queen and her colleagues sit and eat together at the end of a long day.

Photo: Peter Caton
for Action Against Hunger,
South Sudan

Action Against Hunger is leading a global movement to end hunger in our lifetimes. It innovates solutions, advocate for change, and reach 25 million people every year with proven hunger prevention and treatment programs. As a nonprofit that works across 50 countries, its 8,300 dedicated staff members partner with communities to address the root causes of hunger, including climate change, conflict, inequity, and emergencies. It strives to create a world free from hunger, for everyone, for good.