Monthly Archives: May 2014

Neither Here Nor There // A Series of Eyewitness Accounts [Part I]

The following are brief Eye Witness Accounts from Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in Wau, South Sudan.

Since conflict broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, in December 2013, the country has been in a state of crisis. In the last six months, over 250,000 people have fled to neighboring countries and over 800,000 people have been internally displaced. Fleeing their land and tools, millions have watched the harvesting season come and go, left to fear what will happen when cultivation season arrives and there are no crops to harvest.

It is now rainy season, and rather than being thankful for the water that nourishes their cracked, dry land, people are living in haphazard shelters and suffering through persistent floods; stories tell of families wading through water knee-high, others talk of mother’s who are forced to carry their children whenever it rains so that they don’t drown. The UN, National Geographic, and many other news and development agencies are predicting that South Sudan is likely to experience one of the worst famines the world has experienced in over a quarter century. According to the UN, over 3.7 million people, close to one-third of the population, are at risk of starvation.

Much of the recent conflict has been concentrated in Unity State, an oil-rich region. Because it borders Sudan, Unity serves as a hub for a large population of Sudanese traders and refugees.

At the IOM Way-station in Wau, the capital of Warrap State (neighbors to the west of Unity), 130 Sudanese men and their families sit idly under massive tarpaulin structures – the structures are so large that the majority of their temporary residents sleep beneath a single roof.

Prior to moving to Wau, many of the IOM Way-station inhabitants fled to the Unity UNMISS compound as soon the rebels attacked their villages.

“Some of us lived in the camp while others of us remained in our homes for 27 days. We could not come out,” shares Suleman Masam, a Sudanese trader from Unity. “We had only the food and water that what was in our homes to survive.”

As soon as the government regained control of the village, Suleman and thousands of others decided it was time to leave Unity.

“I knew I could not stay there. My shop had been completely looted. I saw dead bodies lining the street; even one of my colleagues was shot.”

Suleman stands at the entrance to his current home with three of his children.

Suleman stands at the entrance to his current home with three of his children.

With his remaining money, Suleman paid for public transportation to take him, one of his wives, and two of his children to Wau – where they reside today.

“I was not expecting what happened to happen. Despite some problems we received from the host community, we had felt safe in Unity,” explains Suleman. “I feel less fear here in Wau than I was feeling at home, but I have nothing to do. I cannot go back to either of my homes – Sudan and Unity. I don’t know what will happen next.”

Salwa, an 18-year-old girl who hitched a ride with her brothers from Unity to Wau, feels similarly, “I can just sit here all day without doing anything.”

Salwa’s story is unique. Not only is she displaced from her home and her family, but of the 130 IDPs, she is one of only five women staying in the Way-station.

 

“I don’t know where the other women are, but I am not comfortable,” explains Salwa. “I cannot go about my life as normal being one of the only women here. I cannot take baths whenever I want and I cannot even sleep without clothing.” (This is notable considering South Sudan’s often unbearable heat – even through the nights.)

In partnership with IOM, Suleman, Salwa, and the other Way-station residents have received World Concern food rations.

But from their perspective, they are still stuck.

“We have some food, but we don’t know when it will come next,” said Salwa.

“I am not sure where I will move next or what will happen in my near future,” Suleman comments, absent-mindedly staring at a child playing nearby. “We want to live in peace. We want to restart our businesses, but right now we have nothing.”

As the conflict and floods continue to plague many regions of South Sudan, I urge you to, most importantly, stay informed. Though it may no longer be making headline news, the crisis in South Sudan is very real. Let’s not forget our millions of displaced brothers and sisters around the world.

For more information:

Food Crisis Worsens in South Sudan as Civil War is Displacing Millions

South Sudan crisis among gravest in history, says UN

South Sudan Crisis: Donors Pledge $600m at conference

World Concern: South Sudan Relief

 

“We Can Now Taste Our Land.” // Fadumo Farming in Somaliland

Last week, while romping through seemingly untouched acres of northern Ugandan bush, an Ecuadorian priest and I kicked our feet through fresh red soil earth and two-foot tall swaying grasses.

It was late afternoon and the muted orange sun hung low on the horizon. I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing like an African sunset – more specifically, a Ugandan sunset.

As we trudged over anthills and leaped across dried riverbeds, the priest spewed unintentional wisdom from his weathered lips; wisdom that can only come from knowing a before and an after.

“If we would just listen to the earth, it could teach us a few things,” he said, toying with a dried piece of grass.

As we continued walking, examining rocks and tasting salty earth in the form of water pouring from an abandoned pump, the priest continued:

“We really don’t have to do much. In fact, our problem is that we are doing too much already,” he shared. “The land would produce on its own if we would harm it less and love it more simply.”

Picking up my mud-encrusted skirt I turned to walk back to the car, where we’d left our friends roasting local vegetables to celebrate the Easter holiday.

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Fadumo, 45-year-old wife, grandmother, mother, tea-shop owner, goat meat chef, and now farmer.

Fadumo. 45-year-old wife, grandmother, mother, tea-shop owner, goat meat chef, and recent farmer.

Backtrack one month to Ceel Ade [pronounced ‘Ehl-Ahdeh‘], Somaliland.

“We can now taste our land,” Fadumo explains.

We sit on the dirt floor of her home – a dome-shaped hut patched together with sticks, dried mud, emptied flour sacks, and tattered canvas bags – faded and brown from the wear and tear of Ceel Ade’s arid climate. Fadumo, her seven children, grandchildren, and in-laws all sleep, eat, and live on this small plot of land.

Home.

Home.

But Fadumo does not see the land as small. Forced to flee Ceel Ade during a previous famine, Fadumo and her family lived in an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps for over 15 years.

Pointing to the earth, she confidently states, “This is my motherland. Ceel Ade is better than the camp.”

Traditionally pastoralists, the Ceel Ade community is persistently suffering from droughts and famines that plague its arid land.

And for a people whose livelihood, as well as much of their personal value, is heavily determined by their goats, camels, and cattle – the consequences of a drought are truly extreme.

Recently, World Concern partnered with the community to build a number of shallow wells and rehabilitate berkads (a traditional Somali water catchment system). Reducing the effects of the predictably yearly droughts, water is now less of a concern for the people of Ceel Ade.

Fadumo's son shows off his multi-tasking skills - running while carrying water.

Fadumo’s son shows off his multi-tasking skills – running while carrying water.

Accessible, clean water is significant. Okay, more like HUGE. But Fadumo can’t seem to stop talking to me about farming. She’s infatuated.

With the help of World Concern training and tools – Ceel Ade has rapidly transformed into an agro-pastoralist community.

“We are very glad to be able to produce food from our land,” Fadumo shares with great joy – the curious kind of joy that comes from learning something new.

In the last five months, Ceel Ade has grown from a community of zero farmers to over 75. It is notable that multiple locals made sure to point that this is the first time they have ever seen a woman farm. 

A meeting of Ceel Ade farmers.

A meeting of Ceel Ade farmers.

Fadumo shares stories of old and farming anew.

Later, lightly tip-toeing over her newly budding soil, Fadumo says, “When I saw the people in our community growing farms, I requested for seeds. My neighbors taught me what they had learned from World Concern and now I am growing watermelon, carrots, maize, and many other things.”

Fadumo crouches down to run her fingers across a lush head of cabbage. My eyes trail off to the seemingly endless desert serving has her backdrop. The contrast is almost unbelievable and I do not blame Fadumo for never knowing that such cracked, dusty land could harvest such bountiful produce.

“We are thankful for World Concern because they have helped our community to make farms,” she tells me. “Before we did not know that our land had a good taste, but now we know it is good.”

Like others, Fadumo plans to eat and sell her farm’s produce, using the money to pay for her seven children’s school fees and improve the structure of her home.

Fadumo + 2 of her 7 children.

Fadumo + 2 of her 7 children.

And with the genuinely selfless attitude that encapsulates every Somali I’ve met, Fadumo explains, “Yes, it is my goal to eat and sell and give food to my neighbor who has none.”

As the land has shared with her, so she wants to share with others.

My mind trails off to the Ecuadorian priest on that late humid afternoon, “If we would just listen to the earth , it could teach us a few things.”