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.
“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.
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.”
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.