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Meanwhile, a government inspector in Nimule confirmed this week what community leaders have told CT: Childers is rarely on the premises and many of the children are living in poor conditions, lacking food, medicine, and proper hygiene. Alphonse Irenge Lesur, the senior local government inspector in Nimule, said that he wrote Childers this summer requesting a meeting to investigate those concerns, but that Childers "ignored" the letter and did not show up for the meeting.

Lesure said that government officials inspected the orphanage on July 9, 2011, and found:

  • a depleted food supply; there was just one bag of posho (cornmeal) in the kitchen. A cook on the premises confirmed that the orphanage had run out of food,
  • a depleted medicine supply,
  • shelters in poor condition, some on the verge of collapsing,
  • beds with torn mosquito nets, and
  • bats and bed bugs on the walls
South Sudanese government inspector Alphonse Lesur says officials have found problems at Childers's orphanage.Image: Photo by Uma Julius

South Sudanese government inspector Alphonse Lesur says officials have found problems at Childers's orphanage.

When CT visited the orphanage this week, we observed five bags of beans, six bags of posho, plus an ample supply of cooking oil, onions, and salt—enough food to last more than a week.

'Beyond shocked' by conditions

Matthew H. Wilson, an American doctor who visited the orphanage in July 2009 said he was "quite angry" at what he witnessed, saying the children were "much sicker than any we had seen" elsewhere in Sudan. Wilson, an assistant professor at Baylor's College of Medicine who takes frequent missions trips to Sudan, wrote in a 2009 e-mail that "many [children] had pus draining out of their ears from ruptured ear drums and infections. Most had swollen bellies from malnutrition." A nurse who was on the trip with Wilson wrote that she was "beyond shocked by the conditions. We saw one child after another with fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, ruptured eardrums, fungus-infected heads, protruding bellies, and infected lacerations. … I am at a loss for words as to the suffering of these children."

Wilson said no adults—including Childers—were at the orphanage when his team visited in 2009, but that they left medicine and antibiotics with clear instructions how to administer them. But when they returned two days later, none of the medicine had been given to the children.

"I don't know what to do," Wilson said, "but I have to do something." He ended up asking CT to investigate, and several people we spoke with recently confirmed what Wilson and the nurse observed.

Young boys at the Nimule orphanage.Image: Photo: Uma Julius

Young boys at the Nimule orphanage.

Childers denied Wilson's charges, saying that a friend who was at the orphanage just two weeks later in 2009 said the children appeared healthy and happy. But Wilson sent CT photographs his team took at the time, including images of beds with no mosquito nets; children with swollen bellies (which Wilson said indicate "malnourishment or worms or both"); an empty kitchen ("We couldn't find food anywhere"); and the tops of children's heads, indicating fungal infections on their scalps ("The only way one gets this is if you are not bathing at all and live in filth. I saw more of this at the orphanage than in the village kids.").

Members of the local community say things haven't changed much since.

"The children are really suffering," said John Okumu, South Sudan regional coordinator for the Africa Inland Church (AIC). Okumu signed what he calls a "partnership agreement" with Childers in 2002 to open the orphanage; he now says Childers has violated the terms of that pact. "Sam Childers has aborted his mission about caring for the children. Instead of taking care of the orphans, he was saying that he was fighting the LRA and rescuing kidnapped children from the LRA. But that is false."

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