South Sudan is a five-year-old girl
Zeieya was born on the Friday just before Independence Day in South Sudan on 9 July 2011. Her name means “when a new era comes in” and she was named to commemorate the independence of her country. What is her life like now, five years after independence?
Zeieya and her family only returned to their hometown of Mankien in May from the Bentiu UN Protection of Civilian site where they fled to after fighting came to their town in 2014. It took them four days to reach Bentiu as they had to move slowly with young children and their elderly grandmother with them.
Their house was destroyed during the conflict and as Zeieya’s mother Martha is a single mother, they were unable to build back, so are instead staying with relatives. Martha is responsible for looking after Zeieya and her six siblings, and their grandmother.
One of Zeieya’s first tasks in the morning is to feed the chickens in their compound. They belong to their relatives and the two families share the house and compound.
Temperatures in Mankien can reach over 40 degrees centigrade at its hottest and water remains a challenge, with not enough water pumps in the village and people often fetching water from contaminated water sources and falling sick.
Zeieya also helps tend her relatives’ goat which they keep in the hope it will produce a baby and milk that they can drink. Until now they have been dependent on aid from humanitarian agencies for everything, as they lost everything when they left their home.
Zeieya also helps her mother to gather small twigs for cooking their own food. Today they will only eat one meal consisting of ground sorghum – in the afternoon – which will have to last them through till the next day.
Like many other young girls her age who fled and then returned to Mankien, Zeieya doesn’t go to school. Her mother can’t afford to send her and her siblings, so they stay at home helping around the house or helping their mother find ways to earn money to buy food for the family.
One of Zeieya’s key tasks is to go with her 7-year-old sister to fetch firewood and wild fruits from the nearby forest. It takes them one hour to reach the area where they can get good firewood and they usually spend around three hours searching for enough to make a few bundles that they can then sell in the market for between 5–20 South Sudanese pounds (approx US $0.80 - $3) depending on the size of the bundle.
Zeieya, like most of the young girls in the village, has never had any real toys to play with. Instead, she plays with any materials she can find lying around. Her games often involve pretending to do home-making activities like cooking: one of her favourite games is pretending to grind sorghum for cooking.
Zeieya sits with her mum (right, in red dress), some of her siblings, and her grandmother in the compound they share with relatives. The family came back from Bentiu hoping to begin cultivating again, but her mother Martha says she regrets it now because they don’t have the ability or capacity to rebuild or cultivate crops, and there is no food here to sustain them.
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