David Thomson, Director of Policy and Programmes at World Vision UK, blogs from South Sudan. The country was formed last summer, splitting from North Sudan following a peace deal and referendum.
What a country. South Sudan, one of the poorest countries in the world, is not even one year old but it is in the throes of an escalating food crisis that is affecting nearly half the population. 90% of the people of South Sudan live on less than 70p a day. South Sudanese are returning home from the North in their thousands, expected 120,000, only putting a greater strain on the food situation. Travelling around Kuajok today I heard ‘HUNGER’ mentioned more times by more people, young and old, than I can remember.
The returnee camp I visited today in Kuajok hosts 15,000 people and is called “Khartoum Jedid”, which means “New Khartoum”. Most of the residents of the camp have returned from Khartoum where many had a better standard of living than they do today. The children had access to education (boys and girls), women and children to health services, and many had a livelihood. Back in their homeland they have far less and the strain is obvious on them and the communities they move back to. Many were born in Sudan so this is their first time back to the South and to get there they travelled days overland to get ‘home’.
I had the privilege today to talk with a group of girls aged between 10 and 15. They had made the journey in the past 12 months. They were still adjusting to the reality of being in their homeland but were so thankful to be attending a school built by World Vision, a school with nearly 2000 pupils of which just under 50% were girls. This is quite unusual in South Sudan. The girls spoke of the many challenges they faced on their long journey, especially when separated from parents or caregivers. I can’t even begin to imagine how frightening it would be to be a child alone in that situation. But somehow they put that behind them! Natalina who is only 13 lit up when she shared about what she will do for her country when she become s a doctor. And when Ileza, just 15, clearly explained how she would run the Ministry of Education and ensure that all children in South Sudan had a good education I begin to be transformed by their vision and hope for a different future. Very humbling.
At the returnees health centre run by World Vision we found the team dealing with 100s of people in need of health care. They were dealing with people suffering from malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and skin disease. But what they wanted me to see was the life saving work they were doing in through the outpatient therapeutic programme. With the support of UNICEF and WFP, World Vision is providing life saving assistance to nearly 6 hundred children under the age of 5, over 100 of these children are severely malnourished.
Manut, a 16 month old boy, was presented by his distraught 11 year old sister. Anome explained that she was the sole care giver and that Manut was not putting on weight. She was the sole care giver because her father had died and then her mother was murdered in the camp trying to protect them. Manut weighed only 6.1kgs! At the age of 16 months a boy in the UK at the 50% quintile will way approx. 10.5kgs. The World Vision team were afraid for both Manut, fearing he may have malaria, and Anome and arranged for them to be transferred to an inpatient facility in the next county. Without their intervention Manut would die. Soon.
The World Vision staff were not providing this assistance in an air conditioned hospital but in a makeshift tent sheltering from the midday sun scorching the ground at 38’c. I am so thankful for the people who serve these children so selflessly in these conditions on a daily basis. It is so very far away from our lives in the UK but so very real for thousands of children across South Sudan at this time.