My mission was relatively straightforward: to follow the joint UNICEF and WFP Rapid Response team going to Pagak, a small village on the south eastern edge of South Sudan, near the border with Ethiopia, in Upper Nile state.
It was here I met little Matida*.
She was tiny, certainly not older than five. One factor singled her out from the otherwise noisy, colorful crowd: she was pulling an old man by a wooden stick, guiding him through a multitude of people, dust and poverty. I immediately realised he was blind. Two dogs followed them loyally, scouting for any potential threats that may arise.
“I’m Matida” she told me. It turned out she was only three-years-old. She had walked for four long hours with her 70-year-old blind father, Abit, under a burning sun before reaching Pagak.
“We heard there would be food here, and vaccines, and other supplies we may need for the next months. We needed to come,” her father told me. He told me how he lost his sight nearly fifteen years ago. He has never seen the face of his small heroine, but it was clear how deeply proud he was.
Matida’s mission in Pagak was nearly accomplished. She was registered together with her father, passed the malnutrition screening and was vaccinated by UNICEF against measles and polio. She never shed a tear, even when facing the often feared syringe.
Matida is one of the 740,000 children under five at high risk of food insecurity in South Sudan. Family food stocks normally run out during this time of the year, with households turning to markets for food supplies. Many markets have been destroyed by the fighting, or people no longer have access to them due to displacement.
The situation remains volatile in many parts of South Sudan and getting supplies to remote areas is challenging. Despite the obstacles, UNICEF is getting help to children who need it, not just in Pagak, but also to many other towns like it in South Sudan through emergency response teams who reach remote areas. But we need to get more supplies to more children. With your help we won’t stop until we reach every child like Matida.
by Ricardo Pires, UNICEF.
*names have been changed