How Baby Nema Found Love on a Garbage Heap

It's an all too familiar site - a town in South Sudan left ravaged and half-empty as a result of armed conflict. Perhaps less common - a baby abandoned on a garbage heap. In her first years of life, Nema lost everything to violence. But, with a little support, the community is taking her under their wing...
War Child in South Sudan - Baby Nema found her home

Little Nema is sleeping peacefully in a corner of a cavernous room in a damaged building. The pictures on the wall were drawn by fighters who occupied the building.

Photo: Alex McBride


One day Rebecca was on her way to collect water from the Nile when she heard a screeching sound from a garbage dump. Just a cat, she thought. She saw kids throwing rocks at the direction of the sound.

Yet the sound stayed with her - it seemed a bit off. Rebecca went to investigate - and found a new-born baby, covered in dried blood, skin breaking up from the harsh sun. “I had to gather my courage before I picked her up,” Rebecca remembers. “If she died, it would have been on me.”

Rebecca covered the child in the long, colourful throw she always wears and ran to the nearby clinic. The baby was in a critical state.

War Child in South Sudan - Baby Nema found her home

Rebecca calls the baby Nema - the blessed one - until the adoption procedure is completed and she can receive her official name.

Photo: Alex McBride

Devastated town

The town where the baby was abandoned had been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in South Sudan. Only a fraction of the population remains. The town feels empty - wild weeds cover the remains of burnt out houses and roadsides littered with rusting car wrecks. The town’s generator is damaged beyond repair - so there is no electricity. Moonless nights are pitch dark.

Many children here lost their fathers to the violence - and sometimes their mothers as well. From a young age children have had to provide for their families and take care of their siblings. Many are unable to attend school. The fighting has stopped - but in addition to the buildings, the social fabric of the town has also been devastated.

Miraculous recovery

Adolescent girls and young women here are exposed to a number of risks to their safety, in particular exploitation and sexual violence. Unplanned pregnancies are common - and the associated stigma is sometimes too much to bear. The garbage heap where Nema was found is close to the place where buses leave for other towns.

“I wondered who the unfortunate woman who took this decision was,” says Rebecca.

Two months on and the baby has made a miraculous recovery. Rebecca decided to adopt her and found living space in an abandoned university hostel that had previously been occupied by fighters. Her daughter-in-law with her baby and her niece keep her company.

“I am not so worried about Nema anymore."
Foster mother Rebecca

Support and encouragement

Nema and her foster mother are visited by a War Child staff member at least twice a week - as are more than 170 other vulnerable children in the town. Some children need protection. Others need support and encouragement to go to school. Others - like Nema - require material support.

Rebecca counts on her fingers to measure the support she and Nema have received so far. “We have baby milk, porridge, sugar, a blanket and some charcoal for cooking,” she says.


Yet it remains a tough time. Rebecca would normally walk back to her village to help prepare the planting of their garden. But for Nema’s sake she doesn’t want to be too far away from a doctor. She will remain in town until the baby has grown stronger - which means she will be dependent on her family and humanitarian support for another few months.

“I feel she belongs to our family now. If your family is small or big, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how we live together."
Nema’s foster mother Rebecca
War Child in South Sudan - Baby Nema found her home

“Even when I am away from her for only an hour to collect water, I don’t feel good.”

Photo: Alex McBride