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South Sudan, 1 December 2015: Behind the camera: Malnutrition

By Sebastian Rich

Behind the Camera: A personal account by Sebastian Rich on photographing the recovery of a little girl in South Sudan

© UNICEF/2015/South Sudan/Rich
oo weak to sit, Nyajime is carefully supported by her father, Michael, who has stayed by the bedside of his daughter throughout. Conflict forced the family from their home and they now live under UN protection.

 
For the last forty years I have photographed in just about every corner of the world that has had – or is having – a conflict, war or some sort of disaster. With this constant diet of distress one can get a sense of creeping despair. But every now and then a beautiful, tiny, teardrop of hope falls into that dark sea of sadness.

Four-year-old Nyajime is that small ray of hope. Last month, Nyajime was admitted to the International Medical Corps hospital in the Protection of Civilians site in Juba, South Sudan, with severe acute malnutrition. She was emaciated and near death. She also had tuberculosis.

Her little body was quite simply failing and falling apart. On admission she weighed just nine kilos, and for her weight, height and age doctors at the UNICEF supported hospital told me that she should have weighed around nineteen kilos.

I first met Nyajime and her family when she was lying on her hospital bed almost lifeless with glazed, flat, unresponsive eyes. Her skin was dehydrated and her breathing was laboured, with every small movement causing her a great deal of pain and discomfort. She was wearing a neatly ironed golden dress but it could not hide her long emaciated arms and legs.

Nyajime’s father was glued to her bedside, and as a father myself, I couldn’t help but share his pain and frustration that a child in 2015 could be in such a terrible state. I returned about every other day to visit Nyajime and her family in the hope that I would be documenting the recovery of this brave little girl and I was not disappointed.

With the intervention of carefully monitored feeding initially with UNICEF provided milk-based fortified food that is full of nutrients along with drugs to combat the tuberculosis, she was making an incredible recovery.

Over the course of the next two weeks I watched a dying girl literally come back to life.

Her eyes now sparkled with health and a glint of the inquisitiveness that all healthy four-year-olds should have. By this time, Nyajime would demand to see the images and nod approval at the results.

On the last day that I saw her before leaving South Sudan I sat on her bed to bid the family farewell. As I looked through my lens and took my last photos I felt a little hand take my reading glasses from where they were perched on my shirt. With a mischievous giggle she put them on and demanded I take a photo. How could I possibly resist!

The doctors of the International Medical Corps say that Nyajime is an incredibly lucky little girl and expect that after completing all her treatments she will make a full recovery. But it has been an experience that no child or parent should ever endure.

My only hope is that the world takes note of children like Nyajime and the millions more like her who are suffering from hunger due to conflict and emergencies that is not of their making.

Sebastian Rich is a freelance photographer who worked on assignment in South Sudan for UNICEF. Nyajime is among an estimated 250,000 children under age five suffering from severe acute malnutrition in South Sudan. View her full story here.

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