Working with communities in remote and often dangerous areas sounds like daunting task, but for Celestino Dumo, Plan International South Sudan’s Field Coordinator for Awerial in the country’s Lakes State, helping people in desperate need is his calling.
Since the brutal conflict of 2013, 52-year-old Dumo has been helping Internally Displaced People secure a second chance at their lives.
“I have never known peace in this country since I was a young boy,” he says as he zips up his tent at the so-called Humanitarian Hub, a campsite for NGOs which has been his home for the past three years. “I am devoted to work in the humanitarian sector, to reaching out to the most vulnerable people.”
South Sudan is facing a humanitarian crisis that is fast spiralling out of control. Inter-communal violence, the risk of armed militia arriving at any moment, corruption, economic collapse and the famine declared in February have placed the country in a state of deep despair.
“The magnitude of the disaster is overwhelming,” says Dumo. “As the armed conflict goes on, a seemingly endless supply of people who have fled their homes keeps flooding into Awerial. The 65,000-strong host community had to make room for 175,000 newcomers in just less than a week.”
“People come because war destroys their livelihoods,” he adds. “They escape with nothing and come to start a new life. They were welcomed and settled peacefully here but their old story of conflict, sexual assault and cattle raids has been replaced by an even more tragic story of hunger, drought and disease.”
“In response to the dire food needs, we are – in partnership with the World Food Programme – distributing food to 8,660 people. But the growing food crisis across the country means there isn’t enough food to meet the need.”
“With our nutrition programme, Plan International is providing Targeted Supplementary Feeding at four health centres in Awerial county. Currently we are managing 2,546 cases of malnutrition involving children under 5 and pregnant and lactating mothers.”
“While we are managing to keep starvation at bay, together with our partners, I cannot stress enough the urgency of this crisis. I continue to hold frail children in my hands, and eventually learn of their deaths. The news of pregnant mothers bleeding to death while giving birth in shacks with inadequate hygiene overwhelms me.”
“The number of young girls dropping out of school and disappearing into marriages because their families have exchanged them for cows astonishes me. Worst of all, we are all disturbed by the fear that a new wave of conflict will strike.”
Despite this bleak reality, Dumo finds comfort in knowing that at the end of the day, he is making a difference to the lives of many. His commitment to the people of Awerial remains unflinching.