Here is our story of South Sudan...

A mother fleeing mass killings was raped by a soldier in the chaos of a country at civil war, and was shunned by her family and community on returning home during a tenuous ceasefire. She had no education to support herself to overcome poverty or find work. She had no chance of ever finding a husband, because she was no longer pure enough to warrant a dowry of cattle for marriage. She was a burden and carried an extra mouth to feed, fathered by an enemy tribe that had killed most of her village.

Psychologically and physically violated and traumatised, she walked to a village far far away, 6 days away by foot, where no one knew of her past. She delivered her first child screaming behind an abandoned building in the midst of squallor and a petrid rubbish pile, horribly and horribly alone. They wandered the streets homeless and starving, without any form of support. She neglected both her own health and that of the child she never wanted. Until a UN truck passed by and brought them to the MSF hospital nearby, because the child was so terribly malnourished. At 1 years old, he weighed only 3kg; the normal weight of a newborn baby….

At the hospital where he should have had every chance of recovering and gaining weight, he deteriorated despite the best efforts of his two foreign MSF doctors. The area was so remote and there was a poverty of healthcare resources and equipment, and almost all trained doctors and nurses had been killed in the civil war. Those that remained after years of tribal conflict, had never had the good fortune of a formal education; or the privilege of understanding why we fight so hard to preserve the sanctity and worth of human life. Mistakes happened due to the apathy of his countrymen to death, in a world where mothers cannot afford to cry and mourn their dying children. Never once did his mother hold him or try to feed him, as he struggled to breathe with just skin and ribs and bone. She herself was but a thin sheet, mind lost somewhere in a past with no future.

The two doctors struggled alone day and night, to keep this baby alive with only the most basic equipment. Carrying the heavy weight of knowledge of how different medical care and life opportunities could be.

But the baby was just so thin and broken his heart stopped fighting, and they held and rocked the baby to sleep on his last night, crying at the horribly sad state of this country and having to let children go, that in a different situation would have had every fighting chance, if not for this political situation out of their control.

Random shootings went on outside the hospital, as the mother finally agreed to hold the baby in her arms for the first time. As the baby died after weeks of neglect by those that should have helped her, let down by the failure of morality and humanity in this very broken country.

In a world where the land flourishes with fertile forest after the monsoon rains, but a third of the population suffers from malnutrition; where humanitarian planes bring in food and medicines, but have failed in educating displaced and war-wrought peoples how to plant crops or use preventive mosquito bed nets; where children and mothers are nothing more than forgotten numbers in a humanitarian worker's books, exploited entirely in the race to produce more soldiers for wars fought over revenge.

The mother's last worry was that the baby would die so far away from his ancestral home. 6 days walk in the savannah heat is too far to walk with a dying child, for a woman on verge of death herself. She pleaded for help to bury the child back home, although the child was still barely breathing.

The two doctors, weeping, pulled out the child's IV lines, turned off the one functioning monitor in the hospital, pulled away his oxygen mask, as he drew his last trembling breaths.

They found a motorbike in the village, and a body bag, and clutched at each other outside the hospital, on a cracked and parched dirt road under the unforgiving searing sun.

The frail mother stoically held a tiny body in a white envelope and was driven off into the land of shadows, in billowing clouds of red dust, never to be seen again.


South Sudan