World Concern staff member Susan Talbot, a technical specialist in commodities, logistics and disaster response, is in South Sudan this month. The following is her account of a visit to one remote village where we’re working.
Today, our team traveled to Menaba, a three-hour journey by Landcruiser over a road that would be impassable to most vehicles. We are accompanied by tsetse flies that swarm over the windows and hood. Phillip, our security officer based out of Nairobi, says the flies are wondering why they can’t find blood on this elephant. It’s the end of the rainy season and the grasses on the sides and at times in the center of the road are 6-8 feet tall, snapping as the vehicle charges through and over them. As we hit flooded holes, the muddy water splashes on the windshield.
As we reach Menaba, our staff is finishing up distributing food – salt, dried beans and sorghum – to women with children. Some are displaced from other parts of South Sudan and others are returnees from Darfur. They’ve been settled in a nearby camp for about a year. Hunger and malnutrition are evident in the toddlers’ patchy hair. This is the end of the hunger gap, which starts in April. The gardens are producing and the marketplace has peanuts, tomatoes, watermelons and cucumbers. But the families in the camp have no land to farm and no resources to buy food. The women greet us like long lost relatives; so welcoming, so grateful.
Women with toddlers gather under a large tree to receive their monthly ration of Plumpydoz, a nutritional, peanut-based food that addresses malnutrition in 6 to 36-month-old children. Nearly 500 children have been registered at each of seven distribution sites in Raja County. Each family receives four containers per child—one container per week. The child takes a tablespoon of Plumpydoz twice a day. The supplement will help the child grow physically and mentally during a crucial period of development. Without adequate nutrition like this, a child’s health is compromised for the rest of his or her life.
We go over the hill to see World Concern’s school feeding program in action. The children crouch around their common bowl of cooked sorghum, four to a bowl, girls on one side of the yard, boys on the other, eating with their washed hands. The feeding program acts as an incentive for school attendance. It’s good to see so many attending school — about 400.
We are invited to join the school principal and some teachers under a tree for lunch. We sample the same cooked red sorghum the children are eating. I expect a bland taste of cooked grain cereal, and am surprised by the good flavor. Phillip sees a group of boys kicking around a soccer ball and quickly organizes a competitive drill, then divides them into teams for a game. He manages to communicate, even with his limited Arabic. Games and laughter transcend language and culture.
I am particularly drawn to a little boy of a young mother. He’s 3 years old and infected by intestinal parasites. Bloated bellies have many causes, but his mother confirms she sees the worms in his stool. After spotting him, I notice several others in a similar state.
I have experienced the heartache of having a child die from an incurable condition. When I make eye contact with this mother, I see the question on her face. Do you have something that will cure my child? For this mother and this child, hope exists in the form of a tablet that costs 44 cents.
Learn more about the challenges facing South Sudan and how we’re helping at www.worldconcern.org/feedsudan.