On Saturday mornings, one particular place in Upper Nile State’s capital Malakal draws a motley crew. Sheep, goats, hens, horses, donkeys, dogs, bovine beauties and, usually, their owners, all flock here in what constitutes a loud, lively outdoor waiting room. Here, sick notes are compared, with the gossip presumably revolving around reportedly greener pastures elsewhere.
They have come here to improve or save their own lives, trusting Indian peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to do so.
“I have brought one of my cows because she hasn’t eaten for almost a week, and I’m worried. I have two other sick cows at home,” says Mandela, who keeps his cows mostly to produce milk for his six young children. “There is no other place in Malakal where veterinarians treat animals. It is my second time here and, I am very grateful for the treatment provided by these fine peacekeepers”.
The importance of livestock in the lives of many South Sudanese people cannot be overstated. The prized animals not only provide food and milk but are also the preferred currency for paying dowries and the most generally accepted symbols of social status. Elsewhere, cash may be king, but in South Sudan, cow is queen.
Unfortunately, local life conditions – poor farm shelters, draughts, conflict-induced sudden changes of management, and a lack of veterinary expertise and medication – make their existence fraught with perils having a detrimental impact on their health.
“Most owners bring their proteges because of wounds, diarrhoea, stomach infections, dehydration or weakness caused by a lack of protein and minerals,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Phillip Varghese.
Some visiting farmers bring several patients for care and attention, with Adama Maker being one of them. On this morning, he is accompanied with 75 goats, all suffering from eye infections and stomach worms.
“Some of them provide meat and milk for my family, but the rest I hope to sell. They need to be healthy, and thanks to the veterinary skills offered by the peacekeeping mission, they’ll fetch a good price, give my family some income and allow me to buy new goats,” says Mr. Maker sagely.
Whinnying happily a few metres away, the horse of Idriss Mohamed seems to confirm the miracles performed at this weekly vet clinic.
“He pulls a cart which we use to provide transportation services, says Mr. Mohamed. “I bought him in Sudan at great expense, so I’m keenly monitoring his health. I can already see he’s a lot stronger after having been treated for dehydration and a pesky stomach infection.”
The veterinarian clinics offered by Indian peacekeepers based in Malakal have become part of a longstanding tradition.
“Our different contingents have been doing this since 2006. We had to stop when the South Sudanese conflict became very severe, but services were resumed in 2018,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Varghese.
Between 2006 and 2015, Indian troops taught South Sudanese students basic veterinary skills, with 120 of them graduating. Time, money and circumstances permitting, such trainings may one day resume.
Athiel Daniel Gajang Nyok is such a former graduate and currently Deputy Director of the Ministry of Animal Resources.
“We are working closingly with the peacekeeping mission to provide some services to our communities, and I wish one day some of our sisters and brothers will get the same vocational training opportunity I was lucky to get,” says Mr. Nyok, who is eager to support the Indian efforts. “Fifteen young community volunteers are being trained to help the peacekeeping veterinarians.”
Michael Ghol Dau, a 22-year-old high school student, is thrilled to be one of them.
“I am very happy to volunteer because I am learning a lot. I know how to diagnose animals and how to treat wounds, worms and dehydration. In fact, I even know how to speak some Hindi now! I’ll get my high school degree and then study to become a professional veterinarian able to help my community,” he says.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).Media files