Winnipeg Free Press | Refugee initiative takes on famine

With civil war and famine ravaging their homeland, a group of South Sudanese refugees in Winnipeg is urging Manitobans to donate before more people die.

Until June 30, the federal government will match donations made to registered Canadian charities that are responding to humanitarian crises in several African nations. The money will go to its Famine Relief Fund.

Plumpy’nut is an inexpensive peanut-based whey protein paste that can save starving children in South Sudan and around the world.

The fund was launched in May to address the hunger crisis involving more than 20 million people in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

“It’s the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945,” said Cathy Campbell, a board member of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and founding member of the Winnipeg Women’s Resource Centre in Bor, a non-profit with operations in the large South Sudanese city.

“At least two people per 10,000 have to be dying every day of starvation to count as a famine,” Campbell said Wednesday.

If the crisis were in Winnipeg, Campbell said, it would be equal to roughly 140 adults dying each day.

What’s happening in South Sudan “is an extraordinary crisis,” she said.

South Sudan, which is in northeastern Africa, became a country six years ago and is caught in a bloody civil war.

Rebecca Deng, the centre’s chairwoman, implored Canadians to take action.

“I went through it,” said Deng, referring to famine, war and the loss of family. “And I cannot be quiet if I’m here.”

When war broke out in the region in 1983, Deng’s family was forced to flee. Her father was captured, her mother died and in the midst of the conflict, exacerbated by starvation, she went to Ethiopia as a lost girl.

Three decades after Deng began her trek to Canada, millions are still dealing with the same problems that caused her to leave.

Groups such as the Foodgrains Bank are working hard to provide food to those in need. In the past year, the Winnipeg-based agency provided $41 million in assistance to about 900,000 people in 35 countries. It is one of the Canadian government’s official partners for providing emergency food assistance.

Guests at an event in Winnipeg Wednesday sampled Plumpy’Nut, an inexpensive peanut-based whey protein paste distributed by the Foodgrains Bank, World Relief Canada and the World Food Program. It’s designed to help children double their body weight in a few weeks. The paste is one of several life-saving foods the organizations can provide to northeast Africa as donations are made.

The group of refugees at WestEnd Commons knows all too well how much the food is needed.

Mary Choul spent six years in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, beginning in 2001. In the UN-funded camp, refugees rationed the delivered food because there was no way to tell when the next shipment would arrive. Choul and her family ate one meal a day. Sometimes, dinner was flour boiled in water. There was nothing else to eat.

In 1991, Mary Nyuon walked eight days to escape war in Ethiopia while she was pregnant. For several days, Nyuon didn’t eat, and when she reached the South Sudanese border, she gave birth to a baby girl. Zara was born underneath a tree while soldiers surrounded Nyuon as protection. But Zara wouldn’t nurse and died nine days later. Nyuon carried Zara for seven hours before she could finally bury her. To keep her son alive, Nyuon sold Zara’s clothes for food.

One of Martha Dut’s children died shortly after being born in a refugee camp, and she remembers watching 10-year-olds dig graves for their own parents.

“People look different when they’re hungry,” she said.

Deng and Robert Granke, the outgoing chairman of the Foodgrains Bank, asked for increased government support.

“We can make an end of hunger if we put our hands together and act,” Deng said.

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