South Sudan Update: No Time to Lose

It’s hot, boiling hot.

Sweat is dripping from the face of the driver onto his shirt but his eyes remain fixed on the road, avoiding the potholes and mud pools that emerge after a night of heavy rain. He drives quickly and my Medair colleagues and I bounce with every bump.

The cold boxes piled in the back of the truck need to reach their destination as soon as possible. They are filled with measles vaccines and ice packs that protect them against the sweltering heat.

There is no time to lose. A life-threatening measles outbreak has struck in Aweil North. Hundreds of children have fallen ill and thousands more are at risk. We’ve received reports that communities are losing children every day. Every child between six months and five years needs to be vaccinated against measles.

Under the shade of a big tree, long lines of children and parents wait to be seen at the first vaccination site we reach. The team works fast but the queue never shrinks. More children and mothers keep walking in from different areas, responding to a community mobiliser who is cycling around the area with a megaphone announcing the campaign.

One of the mothers I meet is Mary, 27, dressed in a bright red dress, her hair beautifully braided, and surrounded by at least seven children. She has brought three of her own five children and several others from her neighbours to be vaccinated. When it’s her children’s turns, she talks quietly to them and holds them on her lap.

“Measles is very dangerous,” she tells me, as she gently hugs her daughter Arek against her chest. “I’m very happy because now my children will be free from measles. If Medair had not done this, there would have been many deaths.”

Yet this is not the only life-threatening concern Mary and her family face. “We are seriously struggling to get enough food,” says Mary.

Our eyes meet for a moment. She is only one year younger than I am, but our lives are so different. “At the beginning of the day, I never know what kind of food, if any, I will be able to bring home,” she says.

Her eldest children have been going to school since January this year, but Mary hasn’t received any education herself. She dreams about it though. Seeing this brave, bright young mother, my heart fills with admiration. I’m impressed by her strength, by her eagerness to work for a better future, by her ability to hope during such difficult times.

I wish I could tell her in my own language how brave and strong she is to me. Our eyes meet again and I smile at her. Her face lights up and she smiles back.

As Mary gathers her children to walk back home, she turns to me and says: “Please tell the world that we need water, roads, clinics, health workers, and schools.”

Moments later she is gone. I promise myself I will do as she asks.

In May, Medair’s emergency response team vaccinated 49,483 children in Aweil North and helped stop a life-threatening measles outbreak.

Your gift to Medair helps people like Mary and her family survive these hard times in South Sudan. Consider making a gift today.

Medair’s work in South Sudan is made possible by European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection departmentthe US Agency for International Development, Common Humanitarian Fund, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Swiss Solidarity, the Belgian Government, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with Tear NL and through the Dutch Relief Alliance Joint Response for South Sudan, UK Aidand the generous support of private donors.

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.