Mary, Nurse Aid, walks into the Action Against Hunger Nutrition Center she oversees.

Honoring the Women Humanitarians of South Sudan

Around the world, Action Against Hunger aid workers – many of whom are women – bring compassion, dedication, and expertise to saving lives.

In Warrap State, South Sudan, prolonged conflict has affected so many lives. Malnutrition rates exceed the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold and access to clean water remains extremely low. Women humanitarian workers are playing a major role in helping to improve life in communities throughout the region.

Below, meet two of these incredible Action Against Hunger women: Lillian, a Community Nutrition Worker, and Mary, a Nurse Aid in charge of one of our Nutrition Centers.

Lillian, Community Nutrition Worker
Gogrial East County, Warrap State, South Sudan

Community Nutrition Worker Lillian leads a training.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, South Sudan

After finishing high school in 2017, Lillian joined Action Against Hunger’s emergency team as a Community Nutrition Worker in Warrap State, South Sudan. When the emergency deployment ended, she remained a permanent part of our team working to save lives and reduce malnutrition in her community.

“I’m happy with Action Against Hunger because they are focusing on treating people and improving people’s lives,” says Lillian. “I was born in this community to help others. That is why God created me and sent me to school…to learn so that I can help other people.”

Lillian has seen a lot of changes in her life since she started working with Action Against Hunger. Professionally, she has gained expertise in how acute malnutrition is screened, treated, and prevented at the community level. She has learned the best ways to accurately measure and diagnose children, seen the effectiveness of our treatment protocols, and gained trust in the community for herself and her fellow nutrition workers.

“If there is someone whose child is sick at home, they can come to me and other staff,” explains Lillian. Community Nutrition Workers can help a mother determine if their child needs treatment for malnutrition, diarrhea, and other illnesses – they diagnose the children and refer them to either an Outpatient Treatment Center or, for more severe cases, a Stabilization Center. Lillian and her peers also provide advice on the need for clean water, safe sanitation, and good hygiene.

“They like me!” she says with pride. “Mothers always come to me and ask, ‘What am I going to do?’ As you see, they are free when I am talking to them.”

Lillian finds joy in being able to use what she’s learned to provide income and advice for her own family, in addition to the rest of the community. With the money she earns, she helps pay for school fees for the children in her family, as well as food and medicine.

Many girls in Lillian’s village marry at a young age. A daughter’s parents typically receive cows from the groom’s family, and when families do not have enough income to support and feed themselves, they see early marriage as the only option. Lillian’s independent income has not only made her family proud of her, but it has given her more choices in her life.

Lillian recalls what she told her father when they considered marriage for her: “I told him, ‘My father, the future is ahead of us! You cannot focus on the cows now. I can go, I can get them for you any time. So, please, let me enjoy my life and let me go for further study, and I can get you anything you need, anytime.’ My father is always happy with me.”

Mary Abuk, Nurse Aid
Gogrial West County, Warrap State, South Sudan

Mary inside Action Against Hunger’s Nutrition Center in Ngapathian, Gogrial West County.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, South Sudan

Mary is the Nurse Aid in charge of Action Against Hunger’s Nutrition Center in Ngapathian, Gogrial West County. She is a major asset in her community, providing lifesaving services both in and out of the center.

She began her career as a clerk in a hospital, and her people skills were noticed right away – hospital staff encouraged her to train as a Community Health Worker and, eventually, a midwife. Mary loves her work: she loved helping to deliver babies and is proud that the community trusts her to care for the health of their families.

South Sudan has seen a reduction in conflict in recent months, and Mary hopes that peace will last and expand opportunities for everyone in her community.

“We were really suffering a lot…We were in a war,” she recalls. “We are now in a development phase, we want everybody to be comfortable. We want sickness to go away, so that everybody can be free from disease and free from malnutrition. Everybody has to get a chance. We hope that in the years to come, the children will go to school and come back to help us change.”

Mary has four children – all girls – and a supportive husband who studies medicine at a university in the capital, Juba. Together, they are saving money for Mary to go to university as well: she aims to become a doctor.

For her own daughters and the other little girls in the community where she lives, Mary has this advice to share: “Go to school …Go for your diploma, to become a nurse or a midwife, and then from there, you can come and help. We usually have a chance here for ladies, if she is educated and she has some knowledge. Be strong and try to understand what the teacher told you and what your family told you…Keep on with your education.”

Mary checks up on patients at the Action Against Hunger Nutrition Center.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, South Sudan

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For more than 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 17 million people in 2019 alone.