How One Group of Doctors Banded Together to Drop Food Aid Over South Sudan

Emergency Response Logistics South Sudan Faces of Hope
Lots of red parachutes attached to food boxes and bags float through the sky
WFP/George Fominyen
Much-needed food assistance falls onto a drop zone in Unity State, South Sudan.

Imagine an airdrop of humanitarian aid — an empty field, hundreds of people squinting into the sky, a sudden deluge of small red parachutes floating to the ground.

This image is a beautiful but expensive one. One airdrop of food in famine-stricken South Sudan costs approximately $36,000 — seven times more expensive than sending supplies by truck or barge. But here — where communities are faced with conflict and insecurity, along with muddy, impassable roads during the rainy season — airdrops are often the only option.

That’s why Women Physicians for Humanity (WP4H) stepped in to make a difference. Over the span of just a few weeks, the nonprofit raised enough donations to fund a World Food Programme (WFP) airdrop.

“It’s going to have the kind of impact where 1,600 people will eat for 30 days,” says Dr. Yasmine Khalil who sits on WP4H’s board of directors. “That’s huge, and that’s very satisfying.”

A boy wearing a striped shirt holds a clay toy plane up to the camera
WFP/George Fominyen
Seven-year-old Peter Mabor likes to watch WFP-manned planes fly overhead and offload cargo. He has seen the process so many times that he knows how to construct toy versions of the plane using mud. While watching the plane airdrop food, he plays with his toy version.

WP4H began as a grassroots movement in September 2015 when a group of female doctors decided to respond to the growing refugee crisis — made clearer by the image of the body of a young boy, Alan Kurdi, who washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean after fleeing Syria.

“[That image] was really heart-wrenching… That group of women physicians decided that they wanted to do more than just sit and watch these news stories unfold,” Khalil says. “They actually wanted to try and have a meaningful and powerful and positive impact on the situation.”

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By communicating through a private Facebook group, the women of WP4H were able to rally support for issues that mattered to them. The group has grown to more than 3,000 members — many of whom are mothers — with a mission to help women and children around the world who have been impacted by injustice, poverty, war and disaster.

Over the past two years, WP4H has done everything from putting together pamphlets about Fourth of July fireworks for mothers of children with post-traumatic stress disorder, to helping refugees resettle in the United States, to going on field missions with the Syrian American Medical Society. Their latest endeavor: Helping WFP reach the most vulnerable communities in South Sudan.

Two women sift through yellow split peas on a blue mat
WFP/George Fominyen
Women sift through the yellow split peas airdropped by a WFP-chartered plane in Unity State, South Sudan.

“It’s disheartening,” Khalil says about the famine situation. “And the fact that we’re not seeing it on day-to-day news outlets makes it that much more frustrating, because we feel like there’s something very important that’s being very much ignored. So we took it upon ourselves to investigate.”

That investigation brought WP4H to multiple news reports, including an episode of 60 Minutes, and eventually to World Food Program USA.

“After seeing the presence that [WFP has] on the ground and the positive and immediate impact [it is] making, we knew that it was the right endeavor to take on,” says Khalil.

Some 500 people donated to the cause, helping WP4H reach its fundraising goal.

“We’re so grateful to every single person who donated, because every donation came from the heart, and every donation is so meaningful and so impactful,” says Khalil. “It’s a bigger reflection of how many people care.”

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