Nyankena’s story: Fighting malnutrition and hoping for a peaceful future in South Sudan

Amid food insecurity and malnutrition at emergency levels, one woman searches for treatment for her infant twins

By Nicholas Ledner
Nyanken Ruot holds her baby
UNICEF/UN053453/Gonzalez Farran
13 March 2017

JUBA, South Sudan, 13 March 2017 – Inside a Protection of Civilians (POC) site in Juba, South Sudan, several mothers sit closely in a group with their children at their sides. The screams of a woman giving birth can be heard coming from the room next door.

The mothers have gathered in this UNICEF-supported Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMC) clinic because their children all suffer from malnutrition. Each child seems to be at a different stage of malnourishment: Some were just admitted while others are already recovering and hopeful to be discharged soon. Some of the families arrived in Juba only days before, while others have lived in this POC for over three years. What differentiates the mothers, however, are the stories they share about how they came here and the violence that each of them experienced.

Twenty-five-year-old Nyankena has twins who are two and a half months old. Their names are Both (boy) and Nyadouth (girl). Her family is originally from a village near Bor, where just a few months ago, things were peaceful. She was recently married and leading a happy life, with expectations to raise a family that loved one another and lived contently. Her husband was gainfully employed and she was ready to give birth soon.

Then, the conflict broke out. It changed everything for Nyankena’s new family. One night, around 2 a.m., she awoke to gunfire. When she got up and went outside, she noticed flames everywhere. Her village was burning. At the time she was pregnant with the twins. As the gunshots came closer and closer, she decided to run for her life, knowing all the while that she was running not just for her life, but for her unborn children’s as well. She ran for two hours straight. This is also the time when Nyankena lost touch with her husband. His parents were killed that night. Enraged, he fled into the bush to try to avenge their fate. She hasn’t seen him since, but knows he is still close to Bor, fighting.

A woman holds a child in a UNICEF supported hospital in Juba, South Sudan.
On 24 January 2017, a woman holds a child in a UNICEF supported hospital in Juba, South Sudan. Through partners, UNICEF is supporting nutrition programmes in Bentiu, Juba, Wau and Malakal Protection of Civilians sites.

Nyankena finally reached a POC camp in Bor where she gave birth to the twins. She did not know anyone there. It was also becoming too difficult to make a living and care for the newborns. She decided to fly to Juba to try to find her brother who was living there in a camp.

In the rush to leave, she left behind her food ration card, making it difficult to get the food she needed for both herself and the twins. She started noticing the infant twins becoming thinner and thinner. She decided to take them to a clinic to seek medical attention. Thanks to the care from the malnutrition treatment centre, Nyankena is now optimistic that her children’s condition will improve as they begin gaining weight, and life, hopefully, will get better.

Nyankena’s goal for her twins is for them to become friends with children from all parts of the country, so they will never know hatred and will be able to love and respect their peers and elders. She wants everyone in South Sudan to put aside their differences and come together for the sake of all their futures, and most importantly, the children’s. She is thankful and happy that UNICEF supports the malnutrition treatment centre. She wishes that other mothers from around the country could have the same opportunity to restore their children’s lives. Unfortunately, not all mothers are so lucky.

There are some 200,000 internally displaced persons now living in the POCs across South Sudan. The influx of internally displaced persons is inevitable with the ongoing insecurity around the country and deteriorating food security situation. Through partners, UNICEF is supporting nutrition programmes in Bentiu, Juba, Wau and Malakal POCs. It is also supporting new stabilization centres, malnutrition treatment centres and providing nutrition treatment and prevention services across the country, especially in hard-to-reach locations.

According to the most recent Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) food security outlook, extreme levels of food insecurity persist across South Sudan: Nearly one third of the population is in need of emergency food assistance; 1.1 million children under 5 are estimated to be acutely malnourished in 2017; and in February 2017, UNICEF and partners admitted 12,558 children for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) treatment.

UNICEF’s nutrition programme remains underfunded, with a total gap of over US$26 million for 2017 activities. UNICEF is grateful to its donors such as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Food for Peace, the German Committee for UNICEF, the Government of Japan, the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the Swiss Committee for UNICEF who enable us to continue to assist some of the most vulnerable women and children in South Sudan.