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Through to 2: helping babies in South Sudan
We are chatting to Mairead, Concern’s Health and Nutrition Coordinator, to find out more about the importance of her work (and your help!) in South Sudan.
What is your position with Concern Worldwide?
I am a Health and Nutrition Coordinator for Concern Worldwide.
What does that involve?
I ensure that all of our programmes give mothers and young children all they need to develop and grow.
How long have you been at Concern, and in South Sudan?
I’ve only been with Concern for a few months, but I previously worked with Concern in Malawi for three years. I have been based in South Sudan since January.
What was your initial reaction when you heard about Through to 2?
I was so delighted to hear that a campaign was focusing on the critical stage of development in a young child’s life. The first two years are a window of opportunity to help toddlers grow big and strong so they can survive past five years of age. Unfortunately, many children in this part of the world never make it past this important milestone. If a child lives past five, their chances of surviving into adulthood dramatically increase.
What is the situation like out there in South Sudan?
There is a food crisis that is affecting all of South Sudan and one million are on the brink of starvation. Even worse, the country is suffering from a conflict that has continued for years, and it is only making the situation worse.
How does the situation affect pregnant mothers and children?
Being a mother myself, it’s very hard to see pregnant mothers and young children suffering from hunger. The famine and food crisis means that many children under the age of five are malnourished, which can permanently affect their development if left untreated. In severe cases, it can even cause death.
How are you and Concern helping?
In addition to providing therapeutic and supplementary food across 52 health facilities to help treat malnourished children and pregnant and lactating mothers, Concern does a lot of health and nutrition education. The mothers are so thirsty for knowledge on how to help their children; and they absorb this information like a sponge. We teach them how to better take care of their children in this difficult climate. Most importantly, they learn how to recognise danger signs in their children, so that they can bring them to clinics immediately for treatment. This ultimately saves many children’s lives.
What more needs to be done? How can we help?
We do great work and reach hundreds or thousands of families, but with a worsening crisis and a conflict that seems never-ending, we need to scale up our programming to help even more communities in need. To do this, we need more resources. But ultimately, what the people of South Sudan need is a durable peace solution.
Why are the first two years the most important in a child’s life?
The first two years are critical to a child’s physical and mental development - if during this time they don’t receive all the important nutrients that they need to grow, the negative impacts could be permanent. Some of these impacts will result in many children not doing well in school as a result of poor cognitive development. A vicious circle follows where effected children are more likely to drop out of school and ultimately will be unable to be a productive member of the society in terms of contributing to the financial development of their country which results in slow development of the country.
Please can you give us an example of when you have met children who are malnourished and how Concern has helped them?
I meet malnourished children every single day. In South Sudan, the food crisis is so severe that you can see malnutrition everywhere. In Northern Bahr el Gazal, where I’m based, malnutrition levels are the second highest in the country. I remember one mother at one of the centres that Concern supports who had six children. Heavy rains had destroyed her crops, and she couldn’t afford to buy any food from the market. Her children became malnourished, but she didn’t know where to turn for treatment. She was found sitting on the side of the road in despair not knowing what to do. Her husband had gone off to the city to find work but hadn’t returned in 9 months so she was left to fend for herself. A health volunteer, trained by Concern, found her and directed her to our clinics. She and her children were given therapeutic food, and within weeks, her children had recovered. Sadly, her story is not unique in a country where millions are hungry.
Have you met any mothers and children that have inspired you?
What inspires me is the sheer resilience and optimism of the women and mothers that we work for. Despite all of the challenges they face, tey have a ferocious will to improve their lives and that of their children.
Thank you very much Mairead!