Images: Lys Arango/Action Against Hunger.
Uniting mothers in South Sudan: Caring for children in conflict
How two mothers overcame their adversities and brought positive change to the community.
Feb 18 2019
On the surface, Regina and Jendy appear to be two mothers with very different circumstances. Jendy has seven biological children, while Regina’s only child died just 14 days after she was born. Despite these differences, both mothers are united in their ability to extend their maternal instincts beyond the nuclear family unit; caring for children in the community regardless of their biological relationship. For both Regina and Jendy, being a mother is more than genetics.
Regina lives in a village in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan, where communities face food insecurity, ongoing conflict and high levels of malnutrition in children.
After the death of her only child, Regina took on the responsibility of caring for six of her relative’s children, raising them as if they were her own. When the youngest child became sick, Regina took him to an Action Against Hunger nutrition site, where he was diagnosed and treated for acute malnutrition.
Whilst waiting for weekly check-ups, the health and nutrition team noticed Regina had a natural gift for connecting with people and that she regularly put the other mothers at ease. They asked her to join their team of community nutrition volunteers, and she agreed.
Regina is now a ‘lead mother’ in her community support group; tackling the causes of malnutrition by sharing her knowledge about health care and feeding practices with other mothers and carers, and referring acutely malnourished children to nutrition centres for lifesaving treatment.
“Things are starting to change thanks to this programme. We are coming together to learn about nutrition, and to control our own fate and that of our children. It is essential for me to pass the message along to the new generations. They are the future of the country”.
On the other side of South Sudan, in the Awan Riau County, Jendy lives with her seven children and husband. When the war began five years ago, Jendy relied on her husband’s salary to feed and educate her children, but when her husband was injured by the fighting, Jendy became the primary breadwinner.
With her additional responsibilities and minimal resources, it was very difficult for Jendy to earn enough money to properly provide for her family, especially her youngest twins.
In November, one of the twins fell very sick, so Jendy travelled to the closest Action Against Hunger nutrition centre. Upon arrival, the nurses examined the twins and diagnosed them both with severe acute malnutrition. One of the boys, who was weak from fever and vomiting, was also diagnosed with malaria.
Jendy and her twins were immediately transferred to the nearest stabilisation centre, where they were admitted for seven days and treated for malaria and severe acute malnutrition. Once both children were a little stronger and her son with malaria had recovered, they were referred back to the nutrition centre, where they continued to receive outpatient treatment until they were both fully recovered.
While at the stabilization centre, Jendy learned about healthy nutrition and feeding practices for her children, which she now shares with other families in her community.
"I can prevent them from [contracting] malaria by using mosquito nets and ensure [safe] hygiene so that they don’t get diarrhoea or vomiting…I can use [this] knowledge to help my neighbours on how [to] take care of their children and prevent them from getting diseases.”
Jendy and Regina, although different in their adversities, are united in their commitment to ensuring positive change in their communities. As well as treating malnutrition in stabilisation centres, Action Against Hunger is committed to tackling the causes of malnutrition in South Sudan by encouraging social and behavioural change. By empowering mothers and carers with the knowledge of safe feeding and hygiene practices, they are empowered to play a vital role in reducing malnutrition and safeguarding children’s health.