Dr Sawsan Yassin travelled all the way from Sudan in 2015 to Cape Town for one reason and one reason only: an opportunity to train in paediatric gastroenterology at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital through the University of Cape Town’s African Paediatric Fellowship Programme (APFP).

It was no mean feat.

She arrived in Cape Town alone at first, leaving behind her four children and her husband. Once the Sudan school calendar had ended, her two daughters and one son joined her in Cape Town, first enrolling in an English school to learn the language – they speak Arabic at home – and then enrolling in South African schools.

“It was a chance to specialise and be of my service to patients,” Sawsan explains. In her home city, Omdurman, there is no gastroenterology unit but they are looking to open a specialised unit for children. A paediatrician post is being held for her.

It took some time to get used to the Cape Town cold as well as the computerised system at Red Cross Children’s Hospital. In the hospitals at home, the doctors and nurses write everything down. For Sawsan, it was an opportunity not only to learn but to train with patients that are similar to those in Sudan. She explains, “We have the same issues in Sudan as South Africa, including tuberculosis and hepatitis. If I had trained in Europe, for example, I may not be dealing with patients that suffer from the same illnesses as those at home.”

The training in paediatric gastroenterology has also given Sawsan the confidence to perform procedures on young patients – something that not many doctors are equipped to deal with in her home city.

She and her children have also learnt how to speak English fluently and have experienced a whole new culture. She says, “It was not an easy decision to break up my family, but it was worth it.”

Her daughter will complete Matric in South Africa in 2017 and then the family will return to Sudan to be reunited.