"My daughter was dying," says Achoc in Malualkon, a village in Northern Bahr El Ghazal, South Sudan. Atong, now one year old, suffered from pneumonia because, according to her mother, she was born outside and exposed to the elements of the wind. As she grew older, her body barely grew and she did not gain any weight. Around her first birthday, she lost her appetite.
Desperate, Achoc tried to find all sorts of solutions to help heal her daughter, without success. Then, she got in contact with Action Against Hunger and Atong was admitted into the organization’s Stabilization Center. Diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, she was in intensive care for six days, regaining her appetite and strength.
When Atong was discharged, her mother left with not only a healthier child – but a new project. While her daughter recovered in the center, Achoc attended hygiene promotion sessions, gaining new awareness about the connection between healthy hygiene and good nutrition. Now, she understands that a lack of sanitation is a major cause of diarrhea and the spread of intestinal parasites, which could lead her children to become ill and malnourished.
Achoc did not want to see any of her five children get sick again – she decided to take action. With tools and technical support from Action Against Hunger, she began to construct a latrine a few meters from her house that will be completed after the rainy season.
"This initiative will not only benefit my family, but also my neighbors and the entire community. I can even set an example," Achoc says proudly.
South Sudan has some of the lowest sanitation indicators in the world. According to nationwide data, more than 90 percent of the population does not have access to adequate hygiene as a result of poor water and sanitation. Inevitably, this leads to very high rates of waterborne diseases, such as diarrhea, which is the second leading cause of death in children under five years of age.
Addressing malnutrition is about more than saving the lives of seriously ill children—it’s also about ensuring that families know how to prevent their children from getting sick in the first place. To encourage healthy behavioral changes in communities, Action Against Hunger uses a model called “positive deviance,” where one neighbor tries something new, sees promising results, and, one by one, the whole community eventually follows suit.
In Malualkon, Achoc is the agent of change, trying something new: her latrine will help prevent her children from getting sick, and could – hopefully – inspire her neighbors to eventually build latrines of their own, improving sanitation and health throughout the community.