“Due to the conflict, I was forced to leave my home village and now live here in Leer”, lead mother Angelina explains to us in her new home. It is a small tukul, as the traditional mud huts are called here, in which she lives with her four children. Three people must sleep on the floor – not unusual in South Sudan.
For five years now, she has volunteered as a lead mother in Medair’s cascade group. More than 500 local women like Angelina are involved. Medair is one of only two NGOs in the country to implement such a programme. And the lead mothers are at the heart of it. “When the Medair team came to my community to form the cascade group, I was elected lead mother by my neighbors,” Angelina recalls proudly with a smile on her face.
Since then, she has received regular training for disseminating health-related information. “I am taught in areas such as, hygiene, nutrition and trauma care. I then pass on my knowledge to my neighbors in group classes, spreading the word in the community. We always have good discussions and I see the great interest my neighborhood has in my messages.”
Her neighbor and friend Theresa regularly comes to Angelina’s classes. “I didn’t know much about hygiene or healthy eating for a long time, and I appreciate your work very much”, Theresa says happily, adding, “I think it’s especially important that young women learn from you how to breastfeed their babies properly after birth. Now I know that many here have not done it properly and I can also help.”
Angelina is especially excited about the lasting impact of her work as a lead mother, and sees how much the effort pays off for the community. “More and more children now know when and how to wash their hands properly at a young age because of us, and can prevent illness.”
Medair also explains and teaches psychosocial care to the lead mothers. Like Angelina, many of them have had traumatic experiences of their own due to the ongoing conflict in the country. “I was driven from my village at gunpoint and ran for my life”, Angelina recalls with horror. “After three hours, I finally arrived in Leer and was taken in. But the danger remains for the dedicated women in the community. “I collect firewood and sell it at the market to have money and feed my children. But there are frequent attacks by robbers. The work is dangerous, but I have to cope with it,” she explains.
In general, great responsibility rests on the shoulders of women. While most men have been rendered unemployed by the ongoing conflict, it is the women who, in addition to household chores and child rearing, are determined to improve the health of their community’s residents through their involvement in the cascade groups.
“I hope that the conflict will end quickly, and that with the help of NGOs like Medair, we will soon be able to build a better life for ourselves again,” Angelina wishes.
Medair’s work in Leer is funded by UKaid and USAID.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.