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Tough road ahead as Juba’s young orphans face the combined risks of poverty, malnutrition and COVID-19

The four young children became orphans when their mother died of childbirth and their father left them behind. The youngest, Rose, 8-months old, was found to be severely malnourished was referred by a child protection volunteer to the nutrition center, one of the 15 health facilities supported by World Vision.

Her 11-year old sister Paska Dudu, barely understanding the role she was thrust into, was the one who took her to Kator Nutrition Centre in Juba, South Sudan’s capital city. After going through the treatment for months, Rose’s health has considerably improved. Paska became a mother to her three younger siblings, quietly bearing the responsibility.

“I brought her to the center every week because her situation was not good. Now that she has greatly improved, I take her once in two weeks. Our life was far better when our mother was alive even if she didn’t have a job. now it’s terrible”, Paska shares.

Paska, 11, became responsible of her young sibling after her mother died and their father left them to fend dor themselves.

 

She adds sadly, “I have to take care of the children yet I don’t know anything.” Rose’s food ration depends on her weight on every visit. Upon recovery, the children are referred for supplementary feeding for a period of two months. During this period, they receive 14 sachets of ready to use supplementary food (RUSF) every two weeks, consuming one day per sachet.

World Vision’s Nutrition Manager in Juba Rahab Kimani said the nutrition team composed of 33 staff and 127 volunteers target to support 87,294 people with various nutrition services, 4,370 of them are children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Acute malnutrition levels among children under five years of age have increased significantly, from 13 percent in 2018 to 16 percent in 2019, which is above the emergency threshold of 15 percent. A UN report estimates that 1.3 million children will be affected by acute malnutrition in 2020.

Lily, the children's aunt, receiving some support from World Vision through child protection assistant Yomima Watts.

 

Aunt Lily, a relative who took care of the children said nobody except her was willing to look after the children. “It is a difficult decision but I have no choice. I cannot hardly take care of my 10 children. If only there are people who can support them I want them to go because I cannot provide for them”, she says.

It hurts to see that other children go to school but we have to stay at home because no one can support us and I need to take care of Rose.

After the death of their mother, they were sent to their uncle in the village but their situation there was even worse. He is a drunkard and Lily, who feared for the children’s safety, brought them back to her place in Juba.

Before her death, Paska’s mother sent her one daughter to school but now she has dropped out. Paska despaired over leaving school. She says, “It hurts to see that other children go to school but we have to stay at home because no one can support us and I need to take care of Rose.”

Faced with malnutrition and COVID-19, Paska and her sisters need support to go to school and have proper nutrition.

 

Lily brews local alcohol in their one-room house where they all stay. Every day, men would come to drink from her shop, which poses danger to the children. World Vision’s protection staff Yomima Aja Watts closely monitors their condition, visiting them from time to time.

“These children need a safe and conducive environment to stay. They also need to go to school. Without proper care and nutrition, especially for the baby, she will continue being malnourished”, Watts says. She added that with the threats posed by COVID-19 pandemic and the crowded space that they have, the children live in a tough condition.

To help augment her income and support the children well, World Vision provided business start-up kits to Lily. The team also registered the children in nearby school. Psycho-social support in World Vision’s child-friendly spaces in Juba are available but Paska cannot leave Rose behind and join the activities.

“These children are likely to suffer more malnutrition than COVID-19. But with the combined risks they are now faced with, we can only do our best to help. Even the monitoring and screening of children suffering from malnutrition regularly done by our community volunteers are hampered due to the lockdown in many areas in Juba”, concludes Kimani.

Related story: Race between malnutrition and COVID-19 getting to South Sudan's vulnerable children

Story and photos by Scovia Faida Charles Duku, Communications Officer