Giving Thanks: Howa Juma's Story

A grandmother and refugee from South Sudan becomes a champion for resilience
Howa Juma with her infant grandchildren, Atoma and Anae Howa. Photo: Action Against Hunger-Uganda

Editor's Note: Many of us will gather with loved ones next week to celebrate family and give thanks for all that we have. At Action Against Hunger, we are incredibly grateful for your steadfast support. We are also thankful for the amazing work our staff members do in difficult conditions around the world  and for some of the incredible people we've met along the way. We appreciate people like Howa Juma, the grandmother you are about to meet in the inspiring piece below. From us to you and yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

Howa Juma's story is marked with pain, but defined by resilience. This summer she arrived at the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in Yumbe, Uganda, having crossed the border from her home in conflict-ridden South Sudan. She carried her twin grandchildren with her—just two weeks old at the time. The babies, Atoma and Anae Howa, were significantly underweight and suffered from diarrhea. Their mother died in childbirth in rural South Sudan,  far from access to basic health services.

Howa Juma was heartbroken, but determined. She was committed to ensuring that her grandchildren were healthy and safe.  After she made it across the border from South Sudan into Uganda, Howa Juma had no other choice but to  feed the infants with cow's milk for two weeks. When she arrived in the refugee settlement in Bidi Bidi, Action Against Hunger provided Howa with health care to help the infant twins gain weight and  recover.

Action Against Hunger and our partners at the United Nations High  Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) set up a shelter for Howa and the twins next to the Action Against Hunger health facility so that we could monitor their progress and provide immediate care if needed. Every morning, our Assistant Program Manager Rachael visits Howa to check on the twins. Our team has become quite close to the family.

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Top photo: Action Against Hunger Assistant Program Manager Rachael holds one of the twins. Bottom photo: Action Against Hunger Nutrition Assistant Sarah visits twins Atoma and Anae Howa. Photos: Action Against Hunger Uganda

 Howa Juma has become a role model for other caregivers and mothers in the refugee settlement, and offers guidance to them on healthy infant and young child feeding practices. She is committed to sharing what she learned through Action Against Hunger with others.

"I love working with other mothers and caregivers," Howa Juma said. "In South Sudan I was a nurse, so improving infants' health is important to me. I love watching them grow and improve."

So far, she has mentored a mother of triplets and two other grandmothers caring for their young orphaned grandchildren.

Once the twins are strong enough for Howa Juma to move from the tent next to the health facility, she hopes to continue serving as a lead mother in local mother-to-mother support groups and to mentor other caregivers as they tend to orphaned children.

Atoma and Anae Howa continue to gain weight every week. Howa Juma continues to worry about the members of her family who remain in South Sudan. Howa says she feels lucky to have found refuge:  "I am so grateful for the support and kindness I have received."  Action Against Hunger's team in Yumbe feels equally lucky to have met and worked with Howa. 

Despite having to flee her home, lose her daughter, and live as a refugee with so much uncertainty about her future, Howa focused on first saving her grandchildren, and then being a force for change in the refugee settlement, helping to teach other mothers and caregivers proper care and feeding practices in a very tough situation.

Howa's strength and caring are an inspiration, and  we are proud to share her story with you as an example of compassion and resilience in action.  

For action. Against hunger. For everyone. For good.

Howa Juma sharing her story with Action Against Hunger. Photo: Action Against Hunger Uganda

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About Rachel Goodermote

Rachel is an International Public Health Nutrition (I-PHN) Fellow, participating in a year-long program of technical training, mentorship, and field experience.