Nyandong* holds her malnourished one-year-old girl, Sunday*; her other children mill round us, their small, thin limbs occasionally wrapping round her.
She tells me what has happened to her family since brutal fighting engulfed parts of Jonglei, South Sudan, in December.
“Innocent people were killed”
“There were a lot of us running together, then some of the people with us got caught. They were surrounded and killed. It was just by luck that we survived.
We crouched and hid behind a fence, just hoping no-one would find us. I could see the scared faces of my children and armed men walking the streets looking for people to kill. Innocent people were killed in those days.
“When the sun set we left. We took nothing; it took us 30 days to walk here.
“We ate leaves off the trees and I thought we would die of thirst. When we saw birds circling we followed them because we hoped they would be flying above water.
“I don’t know how we survived.”
“My children kept asking me for food and water but I didn’t have any. The children were constantly crying. They got rashes on their skin and became thin. They wanted to stop. They fell down on their knees and cut themselves.
“I had to pull them along – if we stopped we would have died there. My daughter had to bring her little brother, but he was too tired. I had to tell her to drag him along even though he cried.”
Hunger is the price for safety
We are talking in remote Nyirol county, in an area set back from the front line where tens of thousands of people have fled for safety. But Nyandong explains that for her family and many others, one threat has been replaced by another. Severe hunger is the price they have paid to escape the bullets.
“Since we arrived here, no-one will kill my family. But hunger could. Hunger could kill everyone here.
“We depend on others. When people in the community give us some food, then we can eat. We eat one small meal a day.
“We mix grass and leaves with sorghum to make it last longer. The leaves are very bad for children – they give them diarrhoea.”
A child about to die
Save the Children screened Nyandong’s daughter Sunday* and found she was severely malnourished. We have been providing food to begin nursing her back to health.
“Sunday was about to die,” Nyandong says. “She was very thin. A baby should walk one year after she is born but Sunday is more than a year old and still she can’t. If she has food I know she will walk soon. And my other children are suffering so much. They have nothing.”
Save the Children is helping children like Sunday but we need your help to reach more. In South Sudan, 50,000 children are likely to die from malnourishment unless treatment is scaled up immediately.
(Save the Children’s nutrition work in Nyirol is possible thanks to funding from the European Community Humanitarian Office)
*Names changed to protect identities