By FEMJOF-Uganda team
At Bangatuti Health Centre III in Yumbe district, 64-year-old Kadijha Kelele, a refugee from South Sudan sits on the floor at the malnutrition ward.
She lives in Yoyo, Zone 3, Village eight in Bidi Bidi settlement in Yumbe. In her hands, tenderly held is a two years and three months old child to her late daughter. The child, a baby girl whose mother passed on in August this year, leaving Ms Kelele as the sole caretaker.
Pale and with a wrinkled face possibly battered by life’s endless battles, she stares in empty space submerged in her own world. She has spent four years in Yoyo settlement.
Ms Kelele cannot have conversation with others in the ward because her language is known by a few, if not one caretaker of another patient. Keliko is a language spoken by those around Morobo County in South Sudan. To interview her, our reporter needed two others to translate from her to another Nuer speaker, then the English translator. Back and forth the conversation went for about ten minutes, then silence. She had lost words and suddenly, her sorrows filled her emotions like a flush flood.
That exhausted face has five children to look after. But there she was, unsure when her granddaughter will be discharged. Without a father figure in their lives, she shoulders a burden too great for her advancing age.
At the health Center, feeding assistants like Mr. Moses Lumago, hired by the relief agency, IRC, helps caregivers mix prescribed foods for in-patient children.
Ms Kelele’s granddaughter suffers from acute malnutrition and has to take 8mils of F75 food mixture to regain her good health and energy. About eight children are brought to the health facility with malnutrition. It takes between one week to a month for In-patient Therapeutic Care.
As she talks to our translators, the child lets out a mild cry. She is too weak to cry loudly. She is too young to explain to her grandma or the medics what she feels.
“Malnutrition would not be the cause of her sickness,” says the grandmother. She adds;
“If only I had the ability to tilt land and grow my own food among the host community, these children would feed well.”
But with dwindling energy peppered with worries and ill health, Ms Kelele wishes she had an extra hand to save her situation. But even for those who want to venture into agriculture to grow their own food to support their families, they have to build a thick skin to hire land, tilt for a year then move to another piece of land.
But even for those who want to venture into agriculture to grow their own food to support their families, they have to build a thick skin to rent land from the host community, tilt for a year then move to another piece of land.
“Food is not enough. They give 16kgs of maize and 5kgs of beans per person for two months. That is the main challenge for us refugees. If the government can get for us some piece of land from the host community so that we do cultivation to supplement on the food we get (from relief aid agencies). The kilos of food they give us cannot reach two months. That is why some of my brothers go back to South Sudan to grow food,” says Mr Denis Kenyi, a father model in his settlement in Zone 4, in Bidi Bidi Settlement.
At about 1pm on Friday, he sat next to his child on his hospital bed. He had brought his child for check up in the night when his condition deteriorated.
Mr. Kenyi left his wife home to take care of the other children. She says it is his responsibility to see that his children are well.
But he too is overwhelmed with children falling sick one after the other due to poor feeding.
He wishes he could provide better for his family.
“Sometimes you feel like going back to South Sudan to dig and bring food for your family. What they give us here is not enough. When you decide to rent land, it’s only for a year. It is like clearing the land for the owner then he says leave, I want to use my land,” says Mr. Kenyi.
Situations like this have forced some men to return to war torn South Sudan to find a way to fend for their families.
Mr. Kenyi says that feeding children and care giving is the responsibility of both parents and every community member to feed children and to feed them well.
This has necessitated interventions from non governmental organizations like Action Against Hunger to find a way to allow children to have an adequate and balanced diet to properly grow into adulthood.
A right to grow project has been launched in two sub counties of Kululu and Odravu in Yumbe district.
Right to Grow is an advocacy project targeting district leaders to lobby for nutrition services and make legislation that favors actions against malnutrition.
In a community that looks at eating beef everyday as eating well or healthy, the district nutrition department is partnering with a consortium to find a solution to malnutrition in these two sub counties.
The project is also being implemented in the ten other districts including; Kamwenge, Buliisa, Kakumiro, Adjumani, Yumbe, Kikuube, Nwoya, Maracha, Bugweri and Kabale.
The five year project funded by the Dutch government is to ensure all persons are able to go to bed having had a meal to achieve a world free from hunger.
Ms Agness Kirabo, the Executive Director of Food Rights Alliance told a high level launch of the Right to Grow Project at Yumbe district headquarters on Friday that;
“Any business that belongs to everyone belongs to nobody. That’s why we need a multi sectoral approach so that the more than 10 million Ugandans who go to bed hungry have access to food. Malnutrition, starvation, wasting and stunting are too many and cost us a lot in terms of development. 30 percent of host communities in Yumbe live in stress in relation to finding food and 40 percent are food insecure. How about the refugees then?”
Food Rights Alliance is part of the consortium for Right to Grow together with other partners, World Vision, The Hunger Project and Action Against Hunger.
Mr. Gerald Kato, the Right to Grow programmed Coordinator says Yumbe district just like most parts of Uganda have fertile land that can enable communities to grow food and have enough for their families.
Ms Melsa Avako Woman MP for Yumbe district committed to work with all stakeholders in the district to ensure inclusive engagement in ending malnutrition and hunger in the district. She was launching the five-year Right to Grow Project on Friday at the district headquarters.