South Sudan Crisis | Donate Now

Desperately seeking safety

Meet Ahok Akol. The beautiful one-year-old was malnourished when she arrived at our stabilisation centre in South Sudan, where 2.5 million people are facing a food emergency

By Leah Oatway

Feb 10 2015

Ahok Akol was just one year old when her mother Abuk Dut swept her into her arms and carried her for three hours to Action Against Hunger’s Aweil stabilisation centre in South Sudan.

The toddler was suffering from severe malnutrition and needed urgent treatment to save her life. 

“I was concerned for Ahok Akol health,” Abuk Dut said as she nursed her young daughter from one of the centre’s steel-framed beds. “She had bad diarrhoea and was dehydrated.”

Abuk Dut had fled Khartoum in South Sudan in 2010, after fighting intensified. Her husband, a soldier, made his way to Juba to work.

“I felt we were in danger [in Khartoum],” she recalled, from the treatment centre in South Sudan’s Bahr el Ghazal region - where tens of thousands of families have sought refuge from conflict both in Sudan and, since December 2013, South Sudan. 

It had taken the couple two days and several bus journeys to arrive in what is now South Sudan. But it was worth it, they felt, to find safety and secure a better life. After war broke out in December 2013, however, Abuk Dut fled with Ahol Akol – then just months old - to Man Awan camp for the displaced in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State.

Conditions in the camp are difficult. People fleeing war rarely have time to collect their belongings. With no means of income, and with markets operating poorly and at inflated prices, mothers like Abuk Dut struggle to provide their children with the nutrients they need to thrive.

Fortunately, our trained community volunteers – themselves residents in the camp - identified Ahok Akol’s malnutrition using a simple middle upper arm circumference measuring technique and told Abuk Dut to bring her to our treatment centre in Aweil for help.

After measuring and weighing Ahok Akol, we admitted her to our outpatient treatment programme where she received medication and Plumpy Nut - a nutrient-enriched, high-calorie paste. 

Abuk Dut was also given essential items such as bed sheets and buckets, to help ease the challenge of raising a child in an increasingly difficult environment.

Now bright-eyed and smiling, Ahok Akol appears to be on the mend. Staff at the clinic are pleased with her progress. 

While clearly relieved, Abuk Dut remains concerned about the prospects of securing nutritious food when they return to the camp. While we have been able to provide food rations to the most vulnerable, with work and international funding scarce we desperately need more funding to meet the needs of many more families like Abuk Dut’s.

For now though, safe in the clinic and with the care her daughter desperately needed at hand, Abuk Dut remains focused on the positive. “She is doing alright now,” she said with a faint smile. “She has improved.”

Find out more about the world's worst food crisis.

Image © 2015 Andrew Parsons / i-Images for Action Against Hunger