When complications arose in the delivery of her fourth child, Achan Akuar had two pieces of luck.
Achan had been in labour for more than 48 hours and was weakening fast. Through the radio network that covers southern Sudan, her condition had been described to doctors at the Red Cross Hospital in neighbouring Kenya. They had issued a 'green light' approval for her to be brought as soon as possible to the hospital, which lies close to the airbase from where the United Nations’ Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) conducts aid operations. In the vastness of southern Sudan, an aircraft is not always in the right place at the right time, but in this case a Buffalo-type transport plane was available.
Lying on a stretcher in the hold, Achan was frightened. She knew she could die. She was badly dehydrated and in great pain. But then she had a second stroke of luck.
Royston 'Shiner' Wright, a security specialist attached to OLS, had been in northern Bahr el Ghazal assessing safety for aid workers. Unusually, his aircraft had to stay in southern Sudan, so he had arranged to hitch a ride with the Buffalo.
As soon as he got on board, Shiner says, he felt distinctly uneasy. "I just somehow felt that she could have that baby right there and then," he recalls. "She was in a very bad way."
Although giving children the best possible start in life is one of UNICEF's priorities, an aptitude for obstetrics is not normally considered vital for security officers. But like all the security team, this former British Royal Marine is a paramedic. And Shiner believes being prepared. He is frequently teased for the amount of kit he lugs around. Now he pulled a pair of surgical gloves from his bag and asked for a medic to be put on the radio. But there was no time.
The baby's head was just visible, but it was not moving. Carefully Shiner felt around the head and onto the neck. Gently, he started pulling. He must have turned the baby's body, because with a little more pressure, suddenly out he came. Only then did the radio crackle with a voice enquiring what stage labour had reached. A shocked Shiner wrapped the baby boy in a blanket and listened to the voice telling him how to cut the umbilical cord.
The Sudanese are often traditionalists and baby boys normally take their fathers' names. But Achan's baby had an unusual start in life and when Shiner visited Achan in the Red Cross Hospital, she told him that the child was to be named 'Shiner Pilot'.
Against the odds, Achan and Shiner Pilot had survived. But what will the young Shiner's future be like?
Southern Sudan has endured 19 years of civil war. Its few hospitals are poorly equipped. Schooling is minimal or non-existent. But Shiner Senior and his colleagues are enabling UNICEF to conduct immunization campaigns, drill boreholes for clean water, train teachers, provide books and work to demobilize child soldiers. The security team is not planning more operations in the field of obstetrics, but with this sort of job, you never know …