Meet Mary James, the first female driver in MSF South Sudan

27 Nov 2023

In the challenging terrains of South Sudan, Mary James navigates more than just roads. She navigates a path of inspiration, breaking gender barriers as the first female driver in Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in this region. In this article she talks about her journey to becoming an MSF driver and her ambitions for the future.

Mary James

"My name is Mary James, I am 31 years old, and I am the first female driver for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in South Sudan. A journey that has been immensely rewarding. 

My story with MSF began two years ago in November 2021, but the seeds for this path were sown much earlier. After pausing my high school education, I took a new direction in 2015 by completing computer and driving courses with a plan to become a driver. This decision would shape my future in ways I never imagined.

In 2017, I started working as a driver for various companies and NGOs, and later found myself navigating the complexities of the Covid-19 pandemic as a driver. This experience was a turning point, leading me to join MSF, where I found my true calling. Though the journey wasn’t easy. In a job where women are often overlooked, I found myself as the only lady in interviews, competing in a field dominated by men.

But I persevered, driven by the belief that being a woman should not define my capabilities.

I cherish my job with MSF, not just for the personal fulfilment it brings, but also for the impact on my family. It’s more than a means to bring food to the table; it’s a source of happiness for everyone who depends on me.

In my community, the sight of a female driver is becoming more accepted, but I focus less on societal perceptions and more on my commitment to equal opportunities for all. I firmly believe that women are not only capable but can excel in any field they choose.

Mary James

Mary James, MSF's first driver in South Sudan © MSF/Rasha Ahmed

Supporting my family has always been my priority. I once wished of furthering my education to become a mechanic and eventually open my own garage. This ambition is a message I want to pass on to young women: be independent, utilise your abilities, and strive to improve your life in every way possible.

Joining MSF was a transformative experience. It broadened my perspective, engaging with a community of diverse people, all grounded by a humanitarian core. Our focus is always on providing support to others, a commitment that transcends language barriers and cultural differences. Working alongside colleagues of various nationalities has taught me the universal language of empathy and cooperation.

This journey is further enriched by the strong bonds I’ve formed with my fellow South Sudanese staff, locally hired by MSF. They've become more than colleagues, they are like a larger community that offers support and solidarity. Together, we've created a network of mutual assistance and understanding, reinforcing our shared commitment to the mission and to each other.

My hope is that my journey inspires MSF to continue embracing and recognising the potential of women in all roles. Here's to more female drivers joining me on this path!"

As of 2023, MSF has provided medical and humanitarian assistance in the region that is now South Sudan for four decades. We run one of our largest humanitarian assistance programmes in the country. With an annual budget of over 113 million euros, we are offering medical services in two administrative areas and seven of the ten states of the country in 2023.