His life was saved, now he’s passing it on

March 18, 2020
Written by Lucy Bloxham

At 7 years old, Simon Piol was malnourished and relied on food distributions from Concern to survive. Now, 20 years later and in the same area of South Sudan, he’s saving the lives of children that are malnourished, just like he once was.

In Aweil, a rural part of the Bahr el Ghazal region of South Sudan, living conditions are hard: The climate is unforgiving, making growing food almost impossible. Opportunities to earn a living are scarce. And political unrest has caused thousands of people to flee their homes. As a result, hunger is rife. 60% of the population in South Sudan are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life. Almost 7 million people face hunger, and an estimated 1.4 million are children under the age of 5.

28-year-old Simon Piol has worked for Concern for 2 years as a Nutrition Assistant at the Majok Nutrition Center where he screens and treats malnourished mothers and children. Simon lives just a 15-minute walk away from the center and, aside from a few years studying in Uganda, has lived in the area his whole life.

Nutrition worker in South Sudan

Nutrition Assistant Simon is pictured leading a clinic session. (Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Concern Worldwide)

“My favorite part of my job is learning,” he says. “This is the field of nutrition, and when you get more knowledge of nutrition, it is the best thing ever.” To become a Nutrition Assistant, Simon had to do months of training with Concern, including learning how to identify malnourished children with MUAC tape, how to accurately measure children’s height and weight, how to refer children and mothers to the appropriate programs, and how to monitor and report on their recovery.

“I feel good because I’m saving lives. I am saving the lives of children who are at risk of death.” Simon Piol, Concern South Sudan Nutrition Assitant

Now that he is qualified, he spends his days screening malnourished children and ensuring they are enrolled onto the correct nutrition program. He tells us: “I feel good because I’m saving lives. I am saving the lives of children who are at risk of death.”

However, there was a time that Simon’s own life needed saving.

“Something wonderful”

Concern came to this area of South Sudan (then still part of Sudan) in 1998. Simon remembers that Concern would arrive, cook some porridge that families and children from the neighboring villages would come to eat. Simon was one of these children.

“I used to come and eat here,” he remembers. “I was malnourished and Concern saved my life. Now, I am working with them and it is something wonderful. Concern is doing a great job.”

Over the last twenty years, our programs in this area have grown and changed significantly to meet the increasing needs of the population, ranging from general food distributions like those Simon attended in the late 90s, to working on the prevention and treatment of acute malnutrition among the most vulnerable groups such as young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

It is this life-saving nutrition work that Simon carries out every day.

The circle of humanitarian aid

This is humanitarian aid well and truly coming full circle, something which Simon echoes when talking about his work with Concern now: “I am happy to help people because if I save lives, they will become great people.”

But he knows we can also do more, adding that, “if it’s possible, we need to create more [nutrition] sites. In fact, if you go outside of this area, you will get more children who are malnourished. This site is not enough.”

South Sudanese nutrition education session

Nutrition Assistant Simon is pictured leading an educational session. (Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Concern Worldwide)

Poignant pasts, the necessary now, and fearless futures

The ever-changing climate and security situation can mean that, for many people living in South Sudan, the future is uncertain. However, Simon wants to become a nutritionist and has plans to go back to school. “I don’t worry about the future. If you’re confident in what you do, you can’t worry about the future. I have to focus on what I do. My wife knows I try, and I am proud of her.”

In the meantime, Simon will continue working with Concern and helping malnourished children survive.

Full circle.

Concern Worldwide staff member in South Sudan

Simon at work. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Concern Worldwide
*names changed to protect the identity of individuals

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