Homeless – but not without hope – in South Sudan

One year ago, World Concern staff were evacuated from Wau, South Sudan, when armed conflict broke out in the area where we’re working. Although our team was able to resume work within a few weeks, for tens of thousands of people, life is far from returning to normal. More than 40,000 are still living in squalid camps around Wau.

A young man crouches over a piece of leather he’s fashioning into a shoe. Shoemaking was not ever in his plans, but for William George, one of 12,000 residents of the Cathedral camp near Wau, South Sudan, it’s how he spends his days.

“I am a graduate of Catholic University, faculty of agriculture and environmental science,” says George. “But because there is no job, it’s not good to beg, so that’s why I decided (to start shoemaking). I don’t want to be idle. That’s why.”

William George is one of 12,000 people living in the Cathedral camp near Wau, South Sudan. The university graduate is making shoes to survive.

One year after the conflict broke out near Wau, very little has changed, except that the population of the camps here has multiplied.

“It seems as though someone is in a jail. You are not free to move. I will just stay here till night and then I go inside and sleep. In the morning, I will just come like this. There is nothing new. You eat, sleep. There is no improvement or anything,” explains George.

At the Cathedral camp, where George is, World Concern is distributing shelter materials in partnership with IOM. While the materials provide a welcome shelter from the rain, camp life has been extremely difficult for families who fled here.

Food prices continue to skyrocket on a daily basis, and many people are surviving on wild leaves. But, recently, even wild leaves are being sold at the market.

Women in South Sudan collect wild leaves for food. Recently, even leaves are being sold in the markets as a means to survive.

Another 39,000 people are living in a camp outside the UN base near Wau. Things are equally difficult there.

“We are stranded here, no food to eat, people are getting sick, no shelter and no school,” said Regina Augustino, a mother of four whose husband was killed in the conflict.

“When the rain falls, this is the worst part of my life here,” she says, holding her youngest. “If I look down, the water is reaching my knees; what can the young children, like the one I am holding now do? If I don’t properly hold him, the water can carry him away.”

But there is no escaping the rain.

“All of my children were crying including the eldest who is about 14 years. When I asked them, ‘Why are you crying?’ they asked me, ‘Mother, don’t we have an alternative place to settle because in this place we are dying. If not at all, we better go back to our old home so that we can at least be rescued from this rain.’ Life was not easy. If we go back we will be killed, I told them.”

Regina and her children huddle inside a makeshift tent at a camp for families who fled violence in South Sudan.

Regina survives by collecting firewood and selling it. “I buy anything that the money can buy, and give it to my children. That is how we cope.”

For George, Regina, and thousands of other families living in South Sudan’s camps, their only hope is peace.

“I hope for a better life, a good future. At the end if there is peace and stability, there will be hope for a good future,” said George, who leans on his faith. “In certain situations, people may think that God is not there, but as a believer, I believe that God is there. If it were not for Him, I would not be surviving up to this moment.”

Regina, too, looks to God for help. “I pray for peace in our country … I have hope that if peace comes someday. We will be able to rebuild our lives.”

World Concern is providing emergency assistance to displaced families in South Sudan. You can help here. We’re also partnering with One Day’s Wages to transform the village of Ranguo as part of a long-term plan for sustainable development of this community. You can join us by donating here.

Walking a mile in their shoes

I recently visited remote villages in South Sudan; a brief visit that has left me journeying through unexplored trails in my own heart.

One experience especially stands out.

It started during a village meeting, in which several ladies in Mayen offered to take me to their homes, to witness the impact of our projects – each terming her household as the “most transformed.” So I settled on visiting just three who stated that their houses were nearby.

Walking the last stretch to the homes I visited in Mayen.
Walking the last stretch to the homes I visited in Mayen.

Strapped for energy and time, my plan was to make a quick dash and back; but some plans don’t unwind as neatly – at least not in the field.

In an entourage of about 10, composed of residents and World Concern staff, we set off and immediately picked pace.

We walked and walked, trudging through snaky paths set on brownish grass amidst isolated huts and trees as the hot South Sudan sun stared down at us.

After a non-stop 45 minute walk, I let my protests be known.  “I will go no further,” I swore. “Let’s turn back now!”

“But we’re just near,” the translator said, a line he repeated whenever I aired my calls of surrender, which was several times more.

Angelina, in front of her home.
Angelina, in front of her home.

It would be an eternity before Angelina Mir’s house came over to meet us. By then I had protested a handful more times hesitatingly agreeing to keep going each time. What’s the use of walking all this way and returning without a story? I kept thinking.

We finally arrived, worn and dusty. My interior was that of an angry man.

Angry at myself for suggesting the trek, angry at myself for forgetting to carry a water bottle, angry at the residents for ‘lying’ about the distance, angry at our vehicle for being unable to snake through the slender paths, and thorny shrubs – places never before driven on. . .

Then it dawned on me.

This heavy trudge for me was a normal  walk for residents. My discomfort at having no drinking water for just a few hours, was a way of life for them (we only came across only two shallow wells, whose water we wouldn’t pour on our heads let alone drink). The hunger I felt was a lifestyle for them.

PondThe people we serve live with these inconveniences every day.

Yet under the seemingly hopeless situation, they are determined to make their lives beautiful.

Angelina for instance borrowed a loan of 200 SSP ($36) from a micro-finance group started through World Concern. That loan ended up saving her son’s life. Four-year-old Marco Anae urgently needed surgery. His stomach had swelled and become intolerably painful from an intestinal blockage. He vomited spurts of blood and lost consciousness as it swelled on.

Angelina Amir and son.
The hefty scar on Angelina’s son’s stomach shows the extent of his emergency surgery.

Although the normal reaction for community members is to sell livestock when in need of money, being a member of the  Buak kukopadh (Let us go after something good) micro-finance group saved her income, as well as her son’s life. “I didn’t sell a goat. It’s a long process which involves taking the goat to the town center where it may stay for up to two days before anyone purchases it,” she explained.

Within only a day of borrowing, she was on her way to hospital – a journey that entailed a two hour long trek carrying Marco before boarding a vehicle to the next town. The loan helped facilitate expenses to the hospital and Marco’s new nutritional demands as the surgery was offered at no charge.

Her group of 21 women has so far saved 2205 SSP ($400) from which they borrow loans to boost their business and repay with interest. Angelina owns a total of 13 goats, one cow and lots of chickens. Besides boosting individual finances, some of the members have their spiritual lives nourished at nearby Pascal Catholic church. Through afternoon adult literacy classes at the church, Angelina is now able to write all her group members’ names!

Some views along the way:

Vegetable garden
Small vegetable garden demonstrates the possibilities that abound in the area.
Church under tree
On our way we came across Pascal Catholic Church which Angelina attends. This Under-the-tree church with logs for seats accommodates up to 250 people on Sundays seeing congregants also take part in adult literacy during week day afternoons.

On our way back, my mind was heavy in thought contemplating how impatient I have been whenever residents show up an hour or two later than scheduled. I realized it takes them just as long to walk to our meeting areas – even longer when rain falls; and mostly they come with parched mouths, empty stomachs, having already handled hundreds of roles, that especially make a woman who she is in the areas we work.

Yet they smile.

Angelina Amir 1b

They have a strong will to keep going no matter how rough the trudge is.

IMG_9267b

This experience has brought me face to face with myself.  Until now I thought I was patient, determined and perseverant among other countless virtues, but the people I met in South Sudan beat me at it. They roundly beat me at it.

__

Through One Village Transformed, World Concern and several partner churches are supporting Mayen village through protection of clean water, food production, livelihoods and robust microfinance. The project is a journey we’re taking alongside the community.  You can be part of it. Here’s how.