Lessons given by children in South Sudan always put things in their place.
Charged batteries, empty memory cards, clean camera and lenses, notebook and pen, bottle of water, a hat… All ready for a new day in South Sudan. Today I’m working for UNICEF, the UN agency that protects children rights around the world. We are going to report on hunger and malnutrition that many families suffer in this country, so that the international community becomes more aware and helps with more money. The cause is legitimate enough to allow me to work with some pride. We arrive in a house where women and children smile. Photographs come out easily because there is honesty and sincerity in that house. Children express their feelings openly. Like the smile of one of the girls who comes to me with open arms. I feel beloved. “Nice!”, I think when I understand that the girl, in her own way, comes to thank me for the work I’ve been doing for years. I interpret the girl honours photography as a tool for awareness. The girl reaches my legs, grabs the pants and, keeping her smile, looks up to me and literally says: “White man, you came to bring us food, right?”.
In my career, I have learned how important the body language is in photojournalism. This week, this lesson has been confirmed.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is standing alone in a large meeting room of his office, exposed to cameras and a group of journalists, some of who are asking him inquisitorial questions.
After about thirty seconds that seemed long and likely deliberate, his guest, the United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, one of the most important figures in the Donald Trump administration, finally arrives. And she was walking quickly, with firm decision, with an evident self-confidence, extending smiling her hand with a touch of supremacy not very obvious in order to not to break the diplomatic protocol. And she was nearly dominating the President, who was still in a waiting position.
The journalists do not know what happened and what was said in the meeting between these two important politicians. But the language of their bodies explained some things. A language that was photographed for the public opinion, which surely drew its own conclusions.
Hungry to learn
The students’ motivation in South Sudan is not satisfied due to a very poor educational system.
Hunger in South Sudan is a very popular truth. And the poor quality of education is another, surely not so well-known. A system that is based on a senseless repetition of words, where teachers do not show enough capacity and students do not have good education materials, it is sad to see the level of learning in classrooms ends up being insignificant, mostly in rural areas.
This is why the words from a young student from a very small school in Bunj, in Maban region, are really shocking:
– There are two things I really like in the school.
– Which are?
– Learning English, because I will be able to speak with foreigners who come to see us.
– And the second?
– This cup of sorghum I have in my hands.
It is overwhelming the motivation that children have to go to school. Apart from the desire to eat, they are hungry to know more and more. But if there is not a rapid and substantial improvement in educational resources and teachers’ capacity, the great opportunity of turning an entire generation into the hope of changing this country will be missed.
You can read more about it in an article recently published in SEGRE newspaper (in Catalan language).
Six million people, half of the population, suffer food insecurity in South Sudan.
A seven-year-old boy drags a huge branch towards his school in Aber, a town in the Lakes region, in South Sudan. It’s a sweet picture because it’s an obligation for all students to bring firewood every morning, before starting classes. Teachers put this condition to the students to let the cook prepare their breakfast, which is often the only meal in the whole day.
But this young boy doesn’t know he won’t have breakfast today. It has been raining all morning in Aber and the firewood is now wet. The cook can’t use it and has decided not to work.
Nobody complains. Everyone go to class and tomorrow they’ll have better luck.
Waiting for the best luck
Health care is non-existent in many rural areas of South Sudan and people just surrender to the fate.
In Padding, a small remote village in South Sudan, inside a shelter still under construction, there is a crowd of people surrounding a woman lying on the ground. Her name is Nyanom, she is 26 years old and suffers a severe malaria infection. She came to Padding from an even smaller town, few miles away, and malaria surprised her when she was in the market. People dragged her to the hut and are now watching her expectantly, to see how her infection evolves. That’s all they can do, apart from a couple of pills that the local healer gave her. There is nothing more to do. The nearest clinic is ten hours on foot and the only thing left is to wait for the Nyanom’s body to survive.
This is the fate of those hundreds of thousands living in the rural South Sudan. With a life expectancy that the civil war and the economic crisis has reduced to 56 years, the South Sudanese just surrender themselves to the fate.
On this last occasion, Nyanom survived. She spent the night in a villager’s house and the next day she was able to walk back home, to wait for the next encounter.