Monday 22 December 2014

I pray that the beautiful boy named after me will be kept safe

David Adams

Published 19/04/2014 | 02:30

Nyhnhial and little David at Gambella on the Ethiopia-South Sudan border.
Nyhnhial and little David at Gambella on the Ethiopia-South Sudan border.
Nyhnhial and little David at Gambella on the Ethiopia-South Sudan border.

'I SHALL call him David," declares Nyhnhial, gazing lovingly at the beautiful baby nestled in her arms. Her friends make clear their approval of the choice. They smile, reach across to shake my hand and offer me the kind of congratulations normally extended to a proud new father.

I am obviously unworthy of the honour bestowed upon me, but too delighted to raise any objections. Nor do I want to run the risk that Nyhnhial might change her mind.

In truth, her choice of name didn't come as a complete surprise. Half-an-hour earlier, in the midst of a discussion about the family's circumstances and general well-being, Nyhnhial had told us that her newborn son had yet to be named. She then asked what I was called and smiled thoughtfully when I told her. From that point onwards, I began to harbour a tiny hope.

She appears remarkably fresh and unruffled for a woman who gave birth just four days earlier – particularly considering the circumstances under which young David entered the world. Not for him and his mother the luxury of a sterile delivery room and doctors and midwives on hand to assist with the birth; nor was removal afterwards to a white-sheeted bed and crib an option for the pair.

Instead, everything took place inside the sweltering, fly-infested tent where we are now chatting. Only Nyhnhial's friends were there to help with the birth, which took place in the middle of a pitch-black African night.

Such is life for the South Sudanese residents of Kule refugee camp in Gambella, Ethiopia.

Kule is a white-tented town of 36,000 residents, around 90pc of whom are women, children and youths. They fled the tribal-based fighting that erupted in South Sudan last December.

Life is far from perfect – or even close to comfortable – for the refugees at Kule, but thanks to agencies like GOAL and the Ethiopian authorities, they have access to shelter, food, water, sanitation and medical facilities. Most important of all, they are safe from attack.

GOAL is responsible for providing nutrition at Kule camp. This involves (amongst much else) assessing the population for (and tackling) malnutrition, referring people for medical care and distributing various food types. The nutrition element of aid delivery at Kule is extremely important as it underpins and impacts upon every aspect of the health and wellbeing of the refugee population.

GOAL spreads its net wide. As part of its operation, it employs community outreach workers from amongst the refugees to constantly monitor and report upon the general health of their co-residents. It was while accompanying one such community outreach team on its daily rounds that I met Nyhnhial.

She and her seven children fled Nasir in South Sudan on December 27 last year after many neighbouring families had been killed in tribal attacks upon the area. They made their way on foot to the Ethiopian border, eventually reaching Kule on March 2. Two of her children died on the journey.

"I never wanted to leave my home, and come to live in a place like this, in another country, but I had no choice," Nyhnhial tells us. "If I had stayed, we all would have been killed."

She has no idea where her husband is or even whether he is still alive. He stayed in Nasir to defend the area and she has heard nothing of him since she left.

Nyhnhial and her now six children (counting David) share a tent with another family from Nasir. She prefers it that way, for the mutual support they give one another.

She is extremely grateful for the refuge and support she has found at Kule, but like everyone else at the camp she yearns to go home. She wants the situation to be as it was before the fighting started.

She tells us that she dreams of a return to the ordinary, peaceful everyday life of a wife and mother.

"I just want to be at home doing what I was before," she says, "looking after my children and husband, without having to worry about us being killed because of our tribe."

Unfortunately, it will probably be a long time before the refugees can return to South Sudan. There have been occasional lulls in the fighting, but a definitive end is not in sight. And while conflict continues, the people will continue to flee.

As if that weren't bad enough, the war in South Sudan has had such an impact on agricultural production that it has also precipitated a famine. This will cause even more deaths and millions of other people to flee.

After a GOAL nurse, Yewbedar, has declared David and Nyhnhial in rude health, as my untrained eye had already guessed, we prepare to take our leave of them and their friends. I have a final nurse of the child.

As he enjoys the contented sleep of the perfectly innocent, I kiss little David's wrinkly forehead and silently pray that he and those that love him will stay safe. That the family will be reunited with the father and they will all soon be able to return safely to South Sudan. Most of all, I pray that David will have a long and happy life.

DAVID ADAMS IS A MEDIA OFFICER WITH GOAL. GOAL IS WORKING AT GAMBELLA ON THE ETHIOPIA-SOUTH SUDAN BORDER, PROVIDING NUTRITION AND OTHER SERVICES AT A REFUGEE CAMP HOME TO 36,000 PEOPLE. FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT WWW.GOAL.IE.

Irish Independent

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