Children marked by hunger, terror and want
By Chol Thomas Dongrin
Sign of Hope South Sudan
Many of South Sudan’s children are experiencing hunger and disease. Help for some of them is forthcoming from a clinic in Rumbek (a town in central South Sudan), which treats their malnutrition and illnesses.
That this clinic still exists is highly gratifying. The civil war raging in South Sudan has destroyed most of the country’s medical facilities. That is why the lines of sick and hungry children – and their parents – waiting at the clinic for treatment are always long.
Adong Mawal Bol is a year and a half old. Life has already completely intimidated her. With her eyes filled with sadness, she cowers on her father’s lap. Her little arms, thighs and back are covered with wounds and scars. These stem from the itchy rash – going by the name of Kwashiorkor and caused by malnutrition – on the little girl’s skin. Each attempt to heal the rash has not worked. Quite the opposite. The infected areas are getting larger and larger. In her pain and desperation, the small girl clings to her father – and refuses to deal with anybody else. Adong spends her days crying. She doesn’t eat and can’t keep still.
Children are suffering especially strongly from the crises gripping South Sudan. Shocking fact: one third of the country’s children are undernourished. “The famine persisting in South Sudan is producing a large number of seriously undernourished children,” reports James Majok Bol. He is a staff member at the clinic in Rumbek. Adong is one of these children. Her stomach is distended. She suffers from chronic diarrhea – and from Kwashiorkor. It causes her not to keep food down.
Adong is now receiving medical treatment and special nutrition. This includes high-energy biscuits. Maker Aweer – Adong’s father – keeps a close eye on his daughter. He suffers with her – and from her incessant weeping. Maker Aweer is the only father taking sole care of his child to be found on the clinic’s premises. Adong’s mother is keeping an eye on the family’s other three children at home.
Fleeing the civil war
Adong’s parents used to be farmers. They cultivated sorghum and peanuts. They also had cattle. Neither of them had the opportunity to get any education. They lived in Mayom, a village located some 25 kilometers away from Rumbek. The civil war forced them to flee their homes. “We never thought that we would be attacked. But one morning we were woken up by a strange pounding. It was still dark out. People started running for their lives, taking their children, their cows and goats with them. We heard shots. Children were crying. We were lucky. We found shelter for a few days with friends who had a cattle camp,” relates Maker Aweer, who is marked by the horrors that he has experienced. He had to overcome his great handicap when fleeing. He had lost years ago his right lower leg in a conflict. This lack of mobility hasn’t stopped him from bringing his daughter to Rumbek. “My wife wasn’t able to come. Armed conflict can break out at any time in the village in which we now live. She has to be prepared to grab our kids and flee. Once Adong has been gotten better, we are going to return to our family,” says the 40 year old.
Hoping for a better life
Maker Aweer lives in perpetual fear of being attacked. His fear is shared by many in South Sudan. Quite rightfully so. The civil war dominates the country’s life. It also exacerbates the country’s hunger crisis. To escape the armed groups roaming the land, rural dwellers flea to South Sudan’s cities – and to neighboring countries. They leave behind their fields – and thus their sources of food and livelihoods.
Maker Aweer is grateful for the clinic’s efforts. “When I brought my daughter to the clinic, I was desperate. My poor daughter looked terrible. She had wounds and infections all over her body. The clinic’s treatment is healing the wounds. She has started keeping down her food. She is gradually getting better. That makes me feel so much better – and stronger.“