It's not about charity, it's about shared humanity

Begin Bom Ohisa
Children stand in the wreckage of their home which was burnt down during fighting between armed groups in July. Their mother and oldest sister have gone to nearby villages in search of work or food; meanwhile these children rely on the kindness of their neighbours in order to eat. (Note: the children in the photo are not the children described in Begin's story below.)

Begin Bom Ohisa works for CARE in South Sudan. This is his story of how one man's sense of shared humanity helped to rescue a family of abandoned children.

I was sitting under a tree in Omoliha market (in Torit, South Sudan) one weekend when a little girl of around six years, in ragged clothes, came and stood by my side quietly without a word and hugging herself for warmth.

Seeing that she wasn’t likely to start conversation I asked her how she was and she replied: “I am hungry.” Confused, I asked her, “Where is your mother?” She told me her mother was in the hospital after her father had poured boiling water on her and that he had then chased her and her elder brother away from home for trying to take water to their mother in the hospital.

She pointed out her brother to me who was standing a little way away – looking at the floor and too afraid to talk. I knew then that I would have to do something to help these children’s suffering.

As a humanitarian worker, and as a human, it was my duty.

I gave the girl my bottle of soda and bought them both some bread before taking them to the hospital to see their mother.

By the time we reached the hospital, it was already starting to get dark, but when we entered the emergency ward their mother was nowhere to be seen. I saw from looking at the children’s faces they were as confused and surprised as I was. “She discharged herself this evening and left the hospital,” said an elderly voice from a nearby patient bed, adding:

She said she will die of hunger here because she does not have anybody to care for her in the hospital except her poor little kids.

By this time, it had grown fully dark and the village where their home was, was far away. The elderly lady suggested they could sleep on the hospital floor and search for their mother in the morning, but I could not bear the thought of leaving them all alone, so I phoned my wife and told her I was bringing two young children back with me for the night.

As soon as we arrived home, my wife saw the terrible condition the children were in and immediately went to fetch water to bathe them and asked our seven-year-old daughter to give some of her clothes to the girl.

I am proud to say she did willingly and with a smile on her face.

My 12-year-old brother-in-law also offered some clothes to the elder brother. We shared our supper with them and then sent them straight to bed as it was late.

Early in the morning we had tea together as a family with the kids playing and joking as if they had all known each other for a long time. But I knew that I had to return them to the family and see what the situation was for myself.

I was not prepared for what I found when I reached their home.

Neither of their parents were there, but I found two even younger boys, even more miserable looking than these two.

They hadn’t eaten anything for the past two days and had had nothing proper to eat for the last two months.

At this point I couldn’t control myself anymore, and broke down in tears, asking how any parent could allow such a thing to happen?

I immediately gave the eldest boy 100 South Sudanese Pounds from my pocket so he could get something for the younger children to eat.

That weekend I also came back with a bag of flour for the children and other food items, and I have been supporting them with food every week since.

I am happy to say I have seen their condition improving bit by bit as a result.

I have now also met both parents and I do my best to mediate and discuss with them on every visit on how to get along better together, address their marital issues and provide for their family.

I would like to say that this case is a rare exception, but through my work with CARE I am seeing more and more families with incidents of domestic abuse – usually related to lack of food and income. This is confirmed by a recent needs assessment carried out in Torit. As the food security situation in Eastern Equatoria becomes worse, this is one of the many by-products.

I worry that if nothing is done to help the situation, more and more people will become victims of hunger and conflict, and tensions will only rise further.

CARE is providing agricultural assistance, distributing relief items and providing gender-based violence training in and around Torit, but much more is needed, and needed right now.

Let us use this family as a wake-up call to all the humanitarian agencies in the area to increase our relief efforts, and to all the parties involved in the conflict to work towards an immediate and lasting peace so that this kind of story does not become the norm for South Sudanese families.

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Begin Bom Ohisa's picture

Begin Bom Ohisa is CARE South Sudan Project Assistant in Torit, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan.