Help for the World's 'broken places'

By Michael Gerson | JUNE 4,2015

KUAJOK, South Sudan- It is difficult to imagine a place more physically and psychologically removed from the world economy, from centers of global influence such as Washington or London, than Warrap state (whose capital is Kuajok).

Here, wealth and status are counted mainly in cattle, which are essential for dowries (a reasonably desirable bride will bring 100 cows). The cattle must be fed even when families go hungry. The recent harvest was bad, but Dinka pastoralists don’t care much for farming anyway. About one-fifth of children at the nutrition program I visited were in the danger zone of malnutrition: when their upper arms grow skinnier than the circumference of a plastic bottle cap. Some malnourished 2-year-olds had never been strong enough to walk. Their skin hung loosely on backs and bottoms, like drapery.

People turn to clinics and hospitals only when the Spear Masters, traditional healers, have failed. Home birth is presumed. Contraception is almost nonexistent. According to a recent U.N. report, a 15-year-old girl living in South Sudan is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete school.

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