The volunteers are buzzing. A nine-month-old boy has just been weighed, a measuring tape wrapped around his arm. It’s pulled up green.
“He’s okay! Now he’s okay, he’s good,” remarks 28-year-old Santo, a volunteer at one of World Vision’s nutrition centres in Juba.
When we met John Jacob and his mom six weeks ago, we worried. He was too small, too frail, too sick, too tired. He could barely stay awake, couldn’t sit up on his own. He was malnourished and his prospects were alarming.
The boy’s mother, Wilma, told us that she didn’t have income, that her husband was far fighting in South Sudan’s conflict and wasn’t sending money home. Later, when we met her again, Wilma whispered that her husband had found another wife, that he’s only been home once in the last nine months – the one and only time he met his son who was now struggling.
Like so many South Sudanese struggling with food insecurity, there wasn’t food at home. Wilma relied on odd jobs from neighbours to earn a little money to buy a few ingredients to make porridge or ugali, a starchy corn meal – a staple of the South Sudanese diet.
“I’m trying my best,” she told us.
For the nutrition volunteers and staff who work alongside hundreds of malnourished children every day at World Vision run nutrition centres, Wilma’s story was far from unique.
But Wilma’s determination to ensure her son would recover was remarkable.
Although she isn’t able to read or write, Wilma wanted to learn how to take care of her son better. To do this, she walked for four hours with John Jacob tied to her back every time she attended the nutrition centre.
There, World Vision nutrition staff gave Wilma packs of nutrient and energy-rich paste called ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF). The staff showed Wilma how to feed the packs to John Jacob three times a day and offered Wilma other tips on how to keep her son healthy. Additionally, Wilma was provided packs of corn soya blend - another nutrient rich food that makes porridge for the family and helps them recover.
Over the course of three months, John Jacob continued to show signs of improvement each time he and Wilma visited the nutrition centre. Sometimes, it would just be a gram or two of weight that the boy would gain. But he started to show developments beyond just gaining weight.
John Jacob started pointing at things, he started to sit up on his own, he started smiling at the other babies who were waiting to be weighed and measured too.
That morning that he was declared as recovered, when we celebrated at the clinic, John Jacob crawled around the clinic and showed us how he could stand on his own for a few seconds, grinning widely.
“I’m so happy he improved. I’m so thankful to this team. They’ve helped me learn,” Wilma said about the World Vision nutrition programme. “I learned how to give him good food and how to cook porridge for him.”
Wilma has since joined a World Vision cash programme where she receives $45 US per month and attends training sessions that have helped her set up a small business selling peanuts by the side of the road. The business has helped her provide food for John Jacob, is helping him grow.
John Jacob is literally back on his feet, ready to go. We can’t wait to see how he grows.
John Jacob is one of more than 87,000 children who have received assistance through World Vision’s nutrition programmes across South Sudan during the past year.