Thirty-three orphaned girls dressed in ASAH school uniforms greeted us at the airstrip when we arrived May 20. A few days later we met with the girl who will be our 34th student. She is from Pajut but has been staying in Duk Payuel. Unfortunately when we arrived to interview her and her guardian, we found she was suffering with malaria. She will join us when she recovers.
Thirteen girls are from our local village, four are from Patuenoi, seven from Poktop, three from Mareng, four from Padiet, and three from Pajut. Our youngest student, Nyamol, is seven years old. On her first day she began to limp as the day went on. When I looked at her foot, I could see it was swollen from an infected wound on the arch of her foot. This resulted in a late evening clinic visit and subsequent painful poking and prodding plus an injection of a painkiller and five days of three times daily antibiotics. Once the tears dried, Nyamol returned to her normal happy self. Tiny but self-confident, she beams at any attention, replies, “YES!” to any conversational attempt and participates in all activities, from volleyball to washing laundry. Bright, she is already replying, “I am fine,” to “How are you?”
What is more amazing is that she speaks both Dinka, the native tribal language of Duk Payuel, and Nuer, the language of another tribe in Duk County. The other Pajut student, Nyalot, speaks only Nuer, so tiny Nyamol translates.
It is perhaps inevitable that we would have a student who is unhappy. Athiek, a twelve-year-old from Padiet, had agreed she wanted to join our program, and she joined us with other girls from the same community. Though she has often been seen smiling and playing with the other ASAH girls, more often she has complained of stomach problems and refused to participate. We took her to the clinic, but she refused to take the prescribed medication, stating that only her grandmother had the proper local herbs to relieve her pain.
The staff agonized about how to help her. She sometimes cried and refused to come out of her dorm. At other times she seemed fine, curious and interested in what we were doing, and participating in writing a letter to her sponsor.
She told us she had the sickness for a long time – perhaps three or four years. Manyok called her grandmother. Amazing for us – we now have cell phone service here in Duk Payuel, though the service usually doesn’t reach all the way into our compound. It works best just outside the gate.
Less than two weeks after Athiek arrived, we arranged for a car to take her back to her grandmother who will bring her to the JDF Lost Boys Clinic and support any recommendations they make. It’s possible, though, that she’s suffering from homesickness. It’s lonely to be an orphan, to lose your parents, and then to be separated from the one person who cares about her.
A few days into her return, Athiek asked to return to ASAH. We told the grandmother she must wait a month to determine if the illness is chronic as she had suggested. We aren’t in a position to manage an illness which is ongoing, especially if there is no adequate treatment, or if the child refuses medical treatment. If it turns out she was suffering homesickness and feels ready to endure separation from her grandmother during the school term, we will give her another chance.