Nyaguol (approx. 35 years old), Ukau village, Akobo East, Jonglei state, South Sudan. Project Mother to Mother Support Group âÃÂàInfant and Young Child Feeding Programme funded by CIDA

Nyaguol is a member of Save the ChildrenâÃÂÃÂs Mother to Mother Support Group in Ukau village. The M2MSGs have been trained on issues such as the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, the introduction of complementary foods, and child health and hygiene practices. Their role is then to disseminate this information amongst other women in their community.

Nyaguol has six children and all of them except the youngest two attend the primary school in Ukau village. Nyaguol explained that her children are regularly missing school because of the food shortages in the area. She said that these problems had been going on for many years and were caused by a combination of floods, drought and on-going inter-communal violence in the area. Many days she is unable to give her children any food, perhaps just some grass and leaves that she collects from the bush. This means that the next day her children feel too weak to attend school. On the days they do go they often return home and tell her that they were unable to understand what the teacher had been telling them because they were too hungry to concentrate.

NyaguolâÃÂÃÂs youngest daughter, two year old Nyakuoth, was part of Save the ChildrenâÃÂÃÂs nutrition programme last year because she was malnourished. Although she is stronger now her mother has concerns that the lack of food is hampering her development as she is still not speaking. She also explained that many of her other children often fall ill because they are too weak from the lack of food to fight diseases such as diarrhoea.

Nyaguol: “The main problem we are facing here is insecurity and that has led us to not have enough food; there was also a drought and floods last year and that means that people do not have enough food. Whenever you want to go somewhere to find food you are worried because of the fighting, people are just running here and there and are not able to find enough food for their children to survive. This has been a problem for very many years; we hope that each year will be better but each year there are problems.”

“We have a lot of challenges because of the lack of food; when there is no food my children will go to sleep without eating anything all day and then the next day they will not want to go to school. I feel bad when my children are not going to school because there is no food but the children are hungry and I am hungry because I have nothing in my house. Even if my children fall sick then I am not able to take them to hospital because I have nothing except the clothes on my body.”

“We are mainly eating sorghum; we donâÃÂÃÂt have a mill to grind it so we grind it by hand and then give it to the children. All of our crops were swept away last year by the floods so we have nothing. All you can do is try to earn a bit of money and then go and buy a small bit of sorghum in the market which will feed my children for one day. There is no way to make any money here unless you have a fishing net so that you can fish in the river and sell what you are able to catch in the market. When you put your net in the river you do not know what you will be able to catch; you do not know what there will be eat tomorrow and you just hope that there will be some way to feed your children.”

“My mind runs mad thinking about what my children are going to eat today and what they will eat tomorrow because I have nowhere to go and get food for my children. I cannot go very far to find work because it is insecure and I am are worried that I might be killed while collecting firewood.”

“If I get food in the evening then my children will eat and will go to school the next day but if there is no food then they will stay at home and not go to school. If the child goes to sleep without eating anything and decides not to go to school the next day I will not force them because I know they will be too weak to go to study and may fall [faint] on the way. So they will stay at home until I find some food. We often spend four days a week not having any food. We hope everyday that we will catch fish in our nets, but it does not always happen. On those days I will collect grass or leaves from the trees and they will eat these.”

“All of my children except the youngest two go to school. I feel sad because when they come from school there is nothing at home, I sometimes even cry because all I can give them is the leaves from the trees. They are happy to go to school but when they have no food they find it hard to concentrate. They like going to school and even when they have eaten nothing the day before they still try to go but then have to home early because they feel unwell.”

“When I ask them about school and what they have learnt they often tell me, âÃÂÃÂI did not learn anything because I had no energy and I did not understand what the teacher told me.âÃÂàBut if they have had food they are able to understand what the teacher has said to them.”

“When they have nothing to eat they are weak and the diseases can come and make them very ill, but if they have something in their stomach then they feel strong and they can fight the diseases.”

“My youngest child has many problems; she is very weak because there is not enough food. She is two years old but she is still not able to talk, she never says a word even though she is old enough to talk. It always looks as though she has a headache and she does not respond to you properly. I donâÃÂÃÂt know what is wrong but it is like she is not growing up properly. Last year between April and October she was given plumpynut by Save the Children and now she is stronger and is not malnourished anymore. I was told that she is good now.”

“I am a member of Save the ChildrenâÃÂÃÂs mother support group; we have been taught how to breastfeed a child, about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and how to care for the young child such as the importance of good hygiene. We counsel some of the other mothers who have not been trained like us; for example we tell mothers who are feeding young babies foods other than breast milk to practice exclusive breastfeeding. In the past we did not know these things but now we have been given this message from people who know I can tell it to other women and I can help the community here.”

“In the past we were doing things in the way people had done for a long time. Previously we would give cowâÃÂÃÂs milk after delivery not breast milk or you would give animalâÃÂÃÂs milk and breast milk together. And we never used to breastfeed the child until the placenta came out. Everyone now accepts the new messages that we are telling them.”

“We have also been told that pregnant women must not carry heavy things or lift heavy things until after they have delivered. In the past after a woman had delivered we gave them sorghum, but we were told that they should eat many foods like milk and porridge which are good for her body. We never used to do this before. If a pregnant mother has enough good food she will deliver a child that looks healthy and good. But now we donâÃÂÃÂt have enough food and so women get very weak when they pregnant and sometimes their babies are not strong or healthy when they are born.”

Mother Nyaguol
Children Nhial Nyang (17), Gatdet (15), Nyagile (7), Nyaruot (5), Chuol Nhial (4), Nyakuoth (2)

(Interview conducted by Helen Mould)