To thousands of communities around the world, the inbound MAF aircraft – just a tiny speck at first – is a symbol of hope. It may bring medicine, or school supplies, or a recently translated bible. It may be the chance to get to hospital or to hear the gospel in your language. For those in Uror Country, it has come to mean the hope of food.
Story and Photos LuAnne Cadd
Wednesday morning at Juba airport in South Sudan and the weight limit on the MAF Cessna Caravan is maxed-out with only one ‘passenger’.
White and orange boxes pack the pods underneath the plane as well as a few layers high inside. These boxes are filled with small packets of nutritional gold. It’s called Plumpy Sup, one of a few variations of a peanut-based supplement that has worked miracles on malnourished babies and small children.
Tearfund ran out of it in Uror County earlier in the year and had been trying to get more there, with financial and political issues making that desire difficult. Finally, with the intense rainy season looming, the time had come that they could book MAF to fly two planeloads into Motot, a remote village about one-and-a-half hours north of Juba. The boxes are so heavy that the plane looks near enough empty, even though it is heavily laden.
Pilots Andrew Parker and Ryan Unger land the plane on the 750m dirt airstrip, which is thankfully dry at the moment. They unload the 55 boxes with the help of Tearfund staff and take off to go and get the next 55. Each flight carries approximately 900kgs of Plumpy Sup.
“In our current response we are targeting 38,429 pregnant and lactating women and children under five suffering from moderate or severe malnutrition”, Claudia Puschner, the organisation’s South Sudan programme officer, explains. “The supplies we transport are mainly Plumpy Nut and therapeutic feeding supplies. These programmes are possible due to the generous support of MAF.”
There are six feeding centres spread out around Uror County, each one open for one day a week. On this day, Wednesday, it’s in Pulchoul, a 30-minute drive from Motot where the airstrip and Tearfund office is located.
Tearfund’s area programme manager Victor Nthiga sits in the back seat of the truck on the way to the Pulchoul feeding centre. “For some months now we’ve been struggling to get supplies, so having these coming in is really a big thing for Tearfund,” Victor explains. “In most of the centres we’ve been turning away some of the women and children so it’s really a celebration today.”
At 11.30am, the Pulchoul feeding centre is filled with women and children. Many have already come and gone. A large tree in the middle of the compound provides shade and a branch to hang a scale from. A crowd of mothers gather around Tearfund’s nutrition supervisor Manyuon, waiting to have their babies weighed.
One baby breaks into terrified screaming as he is placed naked into the dark blue sling. The next baby sits placidly. Across the courtyard, other workers measure tiny arms and write on crumpled, dirt-smeared health cards, indicating how many food packets each baby will receive for the week. Mothers line up at the final station to collect their ration.
Most have walked for over an hour to get to the clinic. Nyadieng Ruth carried her two-year-old in a basket on her head for 90 minutes. When she first brought baby Nyayuni to the centre two months ago, she was suffering from severe diarrhea, pain in her ears and was malnourished. Nyadieng is still worried, but says the child is responding to the Plumpy Nut food and is getting better.
Chul Malual’s child, Muot, has improved dramatically in the month that she has been bringing him to the centre. He was two-years-old when she first brought him in, weighing 6.7kgs. One month later, he is up to 9.3kgs and eating the Plumpy Nut packets without help. Chul’s husband died four years ago, leaving her alone to care for four children.