S. SUDAN, hosting 300,000 refugees
By Musa Mahadi [WFP]
It is widely known as Africa’s largest refugee crisis, some 2.3 million South Sudanese have fled and sought refuge in neighboring countries. However, not many people know of the country’s hospitality and its ability to also host and keep safe refugees from other countries.
South Sudan currently hosts close to 300,000 refugees, the bulk of whom come from Sudan, with a good number from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia. They live in 13 camps dotted across the country. One such camp is Makpandu, located about 250 kilometers west of South Sudan’s capital, Juba. The camp is home to 4,000, all of whom the World Food Programme (WFP) provide food and nutrition support.
“To survive would be hard without food assistance.”
Every resident in the camp has a tragic story to tell, often heart-breaking but they are trying to re-write their life-stories in South Sudan.
A radiant look comes over her face, like a sudden burst of sunshine, as she gently picks a knife to peel cassava. Encircled by dozens of children, a shrill voice of a crying baby carried by another child makes her halt the peeling to attend to the crying baby.
“She is my baby I call her Neema, meaning God’s grace,” she says kissing the baby on its forehead. “God gave her to me, she will go to school someday.”
Behind Stella’s cheerful face and optimism for a brighter future for her baby, is a story of a girl who underwent various tragedies.
In 2012 when fighting intensified in her village of Anukra, Um Doreein South Kordofan in Sudan, she became a victim of conflict and dropped out of school. It was the beginning of a life that would take her to a country she had never been to.
She followed the lead of her family moving southwards. Trekking hundreds of kilometers in the hot semi-arid weather, risking being eaten by wild animals and attacks by armed groups.
Skipping meals became the order of the day, sleeping in the cold became normal and bathing became a luxury.
“Life has been tough for the better part of my childhood,” she narrates as she fights to hold back tears. “Seeing infants starve to death.”
They walked for over 14 kilometers to Yida refugee camp in the northern Unity region of South Sudan.
Every month refugees collect their food ration at a hybrid food and cash distribution center located in the camp. Stella has been entrusted by her family to pick her family’s food assistance.
“Compared to life at home this is not the best, but am glad we are having meals,” she says as she stares at a sack of maize on the veranda of her house. “Honestly speaking to survive would be hard without this food assistance.”
Stella is slowly shaping her future thanks to her resolve to succeed against all odds.
“Growing up, I always believed education could transform life,” she eloquently narrates. “I enrolled in a secondary school and scored highly.”
As luck may have it, Stella’s childhood dream to become a medical practitioner has been rekindled. Stella recently won a scholarship offered by one of the agencies operating in the camp. She will join a medical school in Juba early next year to study clinical medicine.
“I would like to support this community, they have been good to me and my family,” she says. “Going back to Sudan is not feasible because for now, South Sudan is home.”
Isani approaches a cash counter to receive his monthly cash transfer. He hands over a voucher to an aid worker to verify his identity, as he observes silently. He counts wads of bank notes but is the equivalent of US$5.
Gambori is the oldest refugee in this camp. His journey to the camp started in Duru village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“I had a relatively good life back in Congo, a beautiful wife, big farm to grow crops both for sale and to feed my family,” he says in a husky voice “A career as a radio technician, I was happy!”
On a fateful day, armed group attacked his village and killed hundreds of people including his wife. He only survived as he was away at work. When he came back home memories of wonderful moments he spent with his wife made him slip into depression.
“Thinking about the massacre that happened sends chills on my body,” he says shaking his head. “I lost everything, only God knows why I survived.”
One day, unable to overcome his loss, he decided to move west walking aimlessly. He found himself in South Sudan. Isani has no relatives in the camp. He has been able to mingle well with other refugees.
Gambori relies on WFP’s assistance where he receives food in kind and some cash used mostly for other needs such as paying for the grinding mills.
Suraya Mohammad, 28
The wind blows her “toab” a Sudanese traditional dress that makes her stand out in the crowd of women, patiently waiting to receive their food ration. She forgets she is next in the queue, murmurs on the background raise her alertness and she realizes it’s her turn to approach the weighing scale. This is Suraya Muhammad a 28-year-old mother of three. She has come to receive her monthly food ration.
Fighting between armed groups in the Central Africa Republic took a toll on the local population, pushing multitudes including Suraya from out of their homes and country. Suraya had just finished school when her village turned into a battleground.
Amidst this confusion, Suraya’s family decided to marry her off to a budding businessman in Bangui.
“Back home as girls, we are not expected to go further with studies,” she says in a faint voice. “I was married off at 17.”
With support from donors such as Australia, Canada, the European Union, German, the United Kingdom and the United States, WFP is providing food assistance to some 4,000 families in Makpandu refugee camp. They also receive cash to help them meet other basic needs.”