In a country wrought with so much pain and conflict, young Alkheer and Alfathi had now suffered yet another horrible tragedy.
By Karyn Ball
Chris walked through the door and I could immediately tell his day had been far from easy. It was evident as he dropped his bag, kicked off his shoes, and slumped into the closest chair at the kitchen table. But most clearly, you could see the struggle of the day in eyes. “What happened?” I wanted to know.
Chris shared the news. “There was a fire, a tukol fire in Kajo Keji. A man in the village set a family’s home on fire in the middle of the night. The two boys lost their mother in the blaze.” Tukols are commonplace in South Sudan, they are huts made of mud and straw and they serve as the traditional house for many here. I sat still for a moment, picturing the children’s home burning to the ground in a remote village of South Sudan.
The thoughts began to race in my head. Who would do such a thing? Are the children all right? Do they have someone to care for them? Before I could ask, Chris continued. “The two little kids are badly burned. They could hardly sit in the airplane, arms and legs extended straight out, they just stayed as still as could be. They didn’t even lean back on the seat, it would probably have hurt too much.” Chris grimaced.
It was a hard story to listen to, never mind actually experience. Charles, one of MAF South Sudan’s booking officers, told me that that the children’s mother was taken to hospital in Kajo Keji but she didn’t survive. The children were also admitted to this remote hospital, but needed to be medically evacuated to Juba for further treatment. Alkheer is 7 years old, Alfathi is only 5.
Chris said the children looked scared as they climbed the steps of the plane. Rightly so, their home had just burned down, they’d lost their mother, half their bodies were covered in severe burns and now they were about to fly in an airplane with a caregiver to Juba.
Once they got to Juba, a vehicle was supposed to be waiting to take them directly to the hospital. But there was no car in sight and when Chris realized the vehicle wouldn’t be coming, he asked David Juma, one of the guys on MAF’s dispatch team, to drive the children to the hospital in the MAF van.
After hearing all this, my heart was broken. In a country wrought with so much pain and conflict already, young Alkheer and Alfathi had now suffered yet another horrible tragedy. By the next Saturday I was still thinking about the kids, so Chris and I got a babysitter for our own two little ones, and headed out to the hospital, unsure if we would even be able to find them, let alone help.
We stopped in at the administration building, told the staff who we were looking for and one of the nurses kindly led us to the right ward. As we stepped into the simple hospital room, metal beds and saggy mosquito nets lined the walls, a handful of children who had been badly burned filled the small ward. But the first thing that caught my attention was an Abuba (Arabic for “grandma”) hovering over a small child. It was a beautiful sight, an elderly lady with eyes closed and hands raised, praying aloud in Arabic.
The nurse nodded at the same small child on the bed, fast asleep as the granny prayed. The nurse said “He’s the one.” The burns were horrible, the little boy’s entire head was burned and part of his face, as were his two arms and one of his legs. We waited for the prayers to be finished and then said hello. With tears in her eyes, the Abuba introduced herself as Jeselen, the maternal grandmother.
“The children’s mom was my…”, she could hardly utter the words as she mourned the loss of her own daughter.
Jeselen shared that the older brother Alkheer was healing well and had already been released from hospital. Alfathi, the young boy asleep in front of us, was also improving. He could talk and eat and even walk around some. Nabil, the children’s father was also there. There was a mix of sorrow and hardness on his face.
We were able to purchase some medicine and burn cream for Alfathi, as well as some juice and biscuits. A simple gift that I hope shows them that we care for them. We prayed for Alkheer and Alfathi before we left. Thanking God for saving their lives, praying for peace and comfort and healing for their little bodies and their precious souls.
I’m so thankful for MAF and for the life-saving flights they provide.