South Sudan: Seeds of hope

Sandra Bulling
Nyanyin Jek outside CARE's health clinic in Yuai South Sudan

Nyanyin Jek is tired and exhausted. She just walked for two days through the swamp of Uror county in South Sudan. She is seven months pregnant and hopes to receive medical support at CARE's health clinic in Yuai.

"I live in a village called Dakriang where we have no health support or any sort of medical assistance. I heard of this clinic from friends, so I made the decision to walk here. All I ate was leaves, I had no food to bring with me for the way," she says.

Yet, this walk has not been Nyanyin's hardest. When the conflict broke out and the fighting reached Dakriang in January she took her four children and fled. "I stayed under a tree for three months. We had nothing to eat other than a few leaves and some fruits. I was so scared and hid my children in the grass whenever I saw soldiers passing by," she recalls.

In March, she returned to her village to find her hut looted and her fields devastated. "Since we are back, we have not had much to eat. My children and I eat only some paste of sorghum once a day."

Before the conflict, we were cultivating sorghum and sold it at the market, but we have no seeds anymore, so we could not plant.

In South Sudan planting crops follows the natural cycle of dry and rainy season. However, two months into the rainy season many displaced families do not have the means to grow food. They have to make a living in a new place, far away from their homes and their plots of land.

We share what little we have

At the same time, the host communities do not fare much better. They had to leave the county when fighting broke out here as well. Many have just returned, sharing the little they have left with the newly arrived displaced families.

In other areas of South Sudan, the situation is similarly dire, with some areas ranking close to famine levels. About 4 million people are at risk of starvation and over 230,000 children are already severely malnourished.

Nyanyin is just one of many women waiting outside the small yellow building that is part of CARE's health clinic. Inside, Chuol Gatwich, CARE's medical officer who is helping a young pregnant woman, explains:

"During the fighting, a lot of women and children fled their villages. They hid in the bush, without food. This is especially terrible for pregnant women."

When pregnant women become malnourished it will have long-term consequences for the well-being and growth of their unborn children.

Malnourished mothers will give birth to malnourished children

Chuol is certain that the hunger people currently face is worse than in previous years: "Several weeks ago, we visited the surrounding villages to check the level of malnourishment of children under five years. Most of the ones we screened were malnourished, either severely or moderately. And these are just the areas around here."

Imagine families who live in more remote areas, who are cut off from any assistance.

Meanwhile, just next to the health clinic, CARE staff are busy organising the people gathered in front of a large white tent into several lines to speed up the distribution of seeds which is about to start. "Today, we distribute sorghum, cowpeas, sesame, watermelon, tomato, onion, eggplant and okra seeds to 560 households here in Yuai," says CARE's Mujahid Hussain.

Overall, CARE will reach 21,000 host or displaced families with seeds in Jonglei, one of the states most affected by the conflict.

We hope families can start to rebuild their lives

"The conflict here has made life very difficult for displaced people, many of whom moved here from far away," says Mujahid. "They came with nothing, and have little hope of returning until the conflict ends. At the same time, the host families have found their huts destroyed when the fighting swept through this area earlier this year."

We hope that with these seeds, families can start planting and get back on their feet again.

Back at the health clinic, Nyanyin is next in line for a consultation. She receives medicines and then prepares herself for the long walk back to her village. She stops for a moment, rearranges the colourful scarf around her shoulders and then says:

"Our life is worse now. We have nothing. We did not expect this. We were so hopeful after South Sudan's independence three years ago, but this conflict is terrible."

We are all human beings, we do not deserve this suffering.

Sandra Bulling's picture

Sandra Bulling is Media and Communications Coordinator for CARE International