Burnt boys survive tukul fire

Burnt boys survive tukul fire

EMERGENCY FLIGHT | Chris walked through the door and I could immediately tell his day had been far from easy. There was a tukul fire in Kajo Keji. The two boys lost their mother in the blaze...

Story written by: Karyn Ball, wife of MAF pilot Chris Ball

Chris walked through the door and I could immediately tell his day had been far from easy.

There was a fire, a tukul fire in Kajo Keji. A man in the village set the family’s home on fire in the middle of the night. The two boys lost their mother in the blaze.

Tukuls are common place in South Sudan, they are huts made of mud and straw and they serve as the traditional house for many here. I sat still for a moment, picturing the children’s home burning to the ground in a remote village of South Sudan.

The thoughts began to race in my head. Who would do such a thing? Are the children alright? Do they have someone to care for them?  Before I could ask, Chris continued.

Five year old Alfathi recovering in the Juba Teaching Hospital - MAF

'The two little kids are badly burned. They could hardly sit in the airplane, arms and legs extended straight out, they just stayed as still as could be. They didn’t even lean back on the seat, it would probably have hurt too much.' Chris grimaced.

It was a hard story to listen to, never mind actually experience. Charles, one of MAF South Sudan’s booking officers, told me that that the children’s mother was taken to hospital in Kajo Keji but she didn’t survive. The children were also admitted to this remote hospital, but needed to be evacuated to Juba for further treatment.  Alkheer is 7 years old, Alfathi is only 5.

Chris says the children looked scared as they climbed the steps of the plane. Rightly so, their home had just burned down, they’d lost their mother, half their bodies were covered in burns and now they were about to fly in an airplane with a caregiver to Juba.

Once they got to Juba, a vehicle was supposed to be waiting to take them directly to the hospital. But there was no car in sight and when Chris realised the vehicle wouldn’t be coming, he asked David Juma, one of the guys on MAF’s dispatch team, to drive the children to the hospital in the MAF van.

After hearing all this, my heart was broken. In a country already wrought with so much pain and conflict, young Alkheer and Alfathi had now suffered yet another horrible tragedy.

By the next Saturday I was still thinking about the kids, so Chris and I got a babysitter for our own two little ones, and headed out to the hospital, unsure if we would even be able to find them, let alone help.

We stopped in at the administration building, told the staff who we were looking for and one of the nurses kindly led us to the right ward.

As we stepped into the simple hospital room, metal beds and saggy mosquito nets lined the walls, a handful of children who had been badly burned filled the small ward. The first thing that caught my attention was an Abuba (Arabic for “grandma”) hovering over a small child. It was a beautiful sight, an elderly lady with eyes closed and hands raised, praying aloud in Arabic.

The nurse nodded at the same small child on the bed, fast asleep as the granny prayed; 'he’s the one.' The burns were horrible, the little boy’s entire head was burned and part of his face, as were his two arms and one of his legs. We waited for the prayers to be finished and then said hello.

With tears in her eyes, the Abuba introduced herself as Jeselen, the maternal grandmother. 'The children’s mum was my…', she could hardly utter the words as she mourned the loss of her own daughter. Jeselen shared that the older brother Alkheer was healing well and had already been released from hospital. Alfathi, the young boy asleep in front of us, was also improving. He could talk and eat and even walk around some. Nabil, the children’s father was also there. There was a sad mix of sorrow and hardness on his face.

We were able to purchase some medicine and burn cream for Alfathi, as well as some juice and biscuits. A simple gift that I hope shows them that we care for them. We prayed for Alkheer and Alfathi before we left. Thanking God for saving their lives, praying for peace and comfort and healing for their little bodies and their precious souls.