Penny Connley, a Red Cross nurse, supervises a British/Australian Red Cross therapeutic feeding centre for severely malnourished children in a camp for over 100,000 people displaced by fighting near the remote town of Gereida in south Darfur. The Red Cross is treating 700 malnourished children under five a week in the camp.
Here Penny recounts one boy’s story of survival.
“I want to share an encounter I had with a thirteen year old boy called Nazradeen.
“I met him eight weeks ago after his brothers had carried him into our therapeutic feeding centre. When I first saw him he was laying on the floor. His legs were tied together at the ankles, knees and thighs. The skin on the soles of his feet was hanging off, just like a pair of gloves, and he had huge wounds on his legs.
“Nazradeen’s lips were all cracked and bleeding, providing a real feast for the flies. He was so weak he couldn’t even lift his arms to deter them. He had tears rolling down his face. He looked like he didn’t care if tomorrow came. After hearing about the horrific loss of his mother that was understandable.
Doubts about his survival
“We carried him onto the scales. He weighed just 25kg but he was at least 165 cm tall. Even though I doubted myself, and what I could do for him, I admitted him onto the day care feeding programme.
“It’s been over a month now and it has been such hard but rewarding work for all.
“We started by untying Nazradeen’s legs. He had absolutely no muscle tone. He could wiggle his little toe but that was about it. His legs flopped about like jelly.
“Slowly we started exercises, with motivation and more motivation, and a very huge effort on his brothers’ part to pay for a donkey and cart to deliver him from the other end of the camp to the feeding centre every day.
“I played Nazradeen Shrek on the laptop and gave him pen and paper to write with. When his motivation swayed I told him that the next time I visit London I’d buy him a football. And I told him that the Red Cross all over the world knew about him and asked after his progress daily. He returned the next day and had a drawing that he asked me to give the Red Cross, of a delegate driving the landcruiser.
“He slowly started to eat. Then one day he smiled …then he laughed (at a blow up kangaroo!). He practised his exercises and learnt to stand by hanging from the roof. He would cringe, sweat and cry, and I could feel his heart racing with the effort. And every day I told him that everyone was thinking of him. That thought always made him smile.
“We managed to get Nazradeen some crutches. All the staff took turns hopping around the centre to demonstrate how to use them. Then yesterday I heard my staff screaming, then I heard clapping. All the mothers with children in the feeding centre started making the bizarre squealing noises that women make in celebration. Nazradean, the boy whom a month earlier couldn’t feed himself, scratch himself, take himself to the toilet or move a limb, came walking in on the crutches! He had the biggest smile. I cried tears of joy and every hair on my head stood on end. It was only a month later and I didn’t recognise him as the boy I first met.
“Today Nazradeen danced with me on his crutches. He asked me to pass on his thanks to you all.”
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