“My relationship with Sister Kim is very close because I take her as my mentor. She molded me. Without her, I would not be sitting in this office – I would be at home.”
“She is forward – if something is wrong, she tells you. But she always does it in a loving way. That is a friend indeed.”
“Without the help of World Concern, we would not have this level of health care. The government of Uganda steps in when they see you are working hard – so when Sis Kim came, they also came in to assist.”
“If we had power, we would actually strengthen her to have more time – expand her days of living on the earth. Sister Kim has an open heart. Whatever you give to her, she will use it on behalf of others.”
Reverend Pons, Diocese Secretary
“We have had less money to take on the capacity of our staff, but Sister Kim has always mobilized funds. She has sponsored many students – including the staff in our health center and the pastors in our church.”
“Sister Kim is so passionate about prayer that it is difficult to get her to take medication when she is sick.”
“She helped establish the first ever health conference in Nebbi and, thanks to her mobilization skills, we currently have two doctors.”
“If it were to be the wish of the people, Sister Kim should be here forever.”
“When Sister Kim is out of this community, it is very noticeable.”
Geoffrey, Lead Administrator at Goli Health Center
“What I like about Sister Kim is that she is very cooperative, even if challenged.”
“I value her as my mother, sister, and friend.”
“Our staff unite as one body to do our services.”
“Goli is different than other public health centers because we want to show love to the community.”
Anne, Principal at Kuluva Nursing School
“It was very nice to have SIster Kim as a mentor – she’s full of energy and I learned to be the same way.”
“Sister gave scholarships to the best students.”
“She recruited young girls and boys and trained them as assistants because we were short on local staff.”
“You can imagine me trying to step into the shoes of this kind of a person.”
“At first I had no idea where to start from, but she continued praying for me, visiting me, and supporting me financially when necessary.”
“She taught me about trusting in God and persevering, even when things are hard.”
Charity, Nursing Assistant
“Patients feel good to come this way because we have good services and treat them with kindness.”
“All of the staff here are cooperative – we work hand in hand, so we feel good.”
“Sister Kim makes sure there is no shortage of drugs in the pharmacy.”
“Sister Kim paid for and organized my nursing training. This makes me very happy because I did not know what I was going to do.”
“Before I was just at home with no money. I wanted to go to school but had no resources. Sister Kim made it possible for me to be where I am today.”
Over the course of her time in Uganda, Sister Kim has significantly transformed the lives of hundreds of individuals. She would never admit it herself, but her selfless spirit has seeped deeply into the roots of Nebbi, Uganda.
She knew little more than the title of her next life chapter: Uganda. Its sentences had yet to be formulated, its paragraphs were waiting to be compiled. She was particularly unaware that this new so-called chapter would turn out to be more of a series – a life commitment.
In 1985, pursuing the unfamiliar, Chung Yoon Kim, referred to by most as Sister Kim, packed her life and moved from South Korea to Uganda. With the support of World Concern, she began to make lasting imprints on villages across the country, and they accepted her as one of them.
In a span of 30 years, Sister Kim established a fully functioning health center in the very rural village of Goli, opened a nursing training school, founded a prison ministry, and built a mountaintop retreat center.
This is Part II, in what could easily be an endless part blog series, on the life and legend of Sister Kim.
Before you continue reading, make sure to check out Part I.
“In 1967 I was talking with a nursing school friend about how we could one day go to Africa. We were just dreaming and talking casually, and then we forgot about it.”
It’s nearing nightfall and Sister Kim and I are perched on dining room table chairs on her front porch, basked in the late afternoon sun. A breeze makes its way through the rustling branches of the trees she planted in order to keep the area cooler. Mosquitoes begin to saturate the evening air, buzzing to tease ears and tickle vulnerable ankles.
After graduating nursing school in South Korea, Sister Kim moved to the U.S. to continue with her studies. She was, and still is, the only one of her seven siblings to live outside of Korea. Sis Kim spent the subsequent years working in between the U.S. and South Korea.
During the late 1970’s, Sis Kim found herself working relentlessly in inner-city Philadelphia.
“I was very busy back in America,” she tells me. “I was very committed in a Korean community and had a full time job in the hospital. I assisted others with a lot of translations. I was working 24 hours a day, I had no sleeping hours.”
In an effort to save money, serve others, and above all, please God, Sister Kim poured her entire being into her every minute of every day.
Sis Kim & Goli Health Center Staff.
As is apparent in Sister Kim as a now 73-year-old woman, her perpetual energy and committed work ethic are deeply integrated parts of her character.
Despite her sacrificial Philadelphia lifestyle, Sister Kim continued to feel like she wasn’t pleasing God.
“When I was working I gained a lot of money and offered it all to the Lord, but it wasn’t pleasing Him.”
Perhaps it wasn’t that He wasn’t happy with her work, but rather He had something else in mind.
Curious how such seemingly selfless work could possibly displease the Lord, I prod Sister Kim for a further explanation.
“I knew He wasn’t pleased because I couldn’t pray,” Sister Kim replies. “So one day I went to a vacated room in the city and decided to pray until I heard an answer. I closed all of the doors and windows and just prayed.”
Sister Kim prayed for three days straight.
“At sunset on the third day, I was suddenly reminded of the conversations I once had with my nursing school friends- you said you wanted to go to Africa. I knew this was my answer, so I left the room and went back home.”
In what can only be described as complete faith, Sister Kim spent the next few years pursuing moving to a foreign country to do a professedly foreign work.
“As soon as I arrived in Uganda and stepped onto the ground, a peace overcame me,” Sister Kim recalls, tears welling in her remembering eyes. “Any worries about Africa I had once had were all gone. In me was only peace – and this peace has not left.”
Curled up on my chair, I physically feel as if I’m swimming in the details of Sister Kim’s narrative. As I listen, I envision phrases and quotes swirling above her head. One of her comments is bold and italicized – it stands out from the rest:
“I thought I was humble but, unknowingly, there was pride within me.”
[Heeeelloooooo…reality check. Her words like a scalpel to my core – I was left to dissect my character, my life, and my intentions. I’m sure Sis Kim had no idea that in sharing her story, her raw words spoken over cups of lukewarm tea were sharpening and molding me.]
Sister Kim’s first eight years in Uganda were spent working at a health center and establishing a nursing school in a village called Kuluva. Originally a school of 70, Kuluva is now equipping over 250 nursing students.
During her time in Kuluva Sister Kim dealt with a gamut of challenges. A war in Uganda was being waged and patients with missing limbs were entering the health center on the daily.
“We were running out of resources and had to recycle whatever materials we could find,” she describes.
While simultaneously tending to wounds and organizing prayer groups, Sister Kim was suffering from monthly spouts of malaria.
“It was not a big deal,” she casually shares. “I always knew when the malaria was coming because I would begin to feel heavy and achy.”
There reached a point when Kuluva nursing school became sustainable. Sister Kim appointed a local principal and declared it time to head back to Korea and the U.S.
“I told God, ‘Isn’t that enough?’” she says. “But he did not answer me. Then the Anglican diocese called me back to Uganda – I felt frustrated. What should I go back for? So I spent another three days in secluded prayer.”
Again, on the third day, God answered her cries.
“A verse came to me that I still have on my wall to this day,” Sister Kim energetically shares. “So I moved back to Uganda.”
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self…to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4: 22-24
Dusk has turned to nightfall and the mosquitoes have migrated around artificial lights. Sister Kim and I sit comfortably in silence, processing stories unforeseen and stories yet to come.
In the year of 1941, unbeknownst to a rural Ugandan community, a distant sister and unparalleled pioneer was born.
Her given name was Chung Yoon Kim, but most (an underestatement as you will soon read) refer to her as Sister Kim.
If it were possible, I would love to write an entire six part blog post describing Sister Kim. I would tell you that she is incredibly selfless, hospitable, intentional, prayerful, hilarious, driven, energetic, resilient, beautiful, and every other positive adjective that when combined only scratch the surface of her character. But Sister Kim wouldn’t like this because, well, she really is that selfless. [I consider it a minor accomplishment that I was able to spend four plus hours interviewing her, as this required that she talk about herself.]
Instead, I will tell you about Sister Kim (still in the form of a series) via voices from the gamut of communities, projects, and individuals who have been transformed in the last 30 years.
In 1985, prior to the advent of widespread internet access, Sister Kim courageously packed up her few belongings and moved to a land she knew little more of than it’s name: Uganda.
“To be honest, I did feel fear,” she explained. “But the very moment I descended from the plane’s staircase and stepped onto the red soil, I was overcome with a sense of peace – and this peace hasn’t left me since.”
Sister Kim attributes this peace entirely to God. It is a peace that has kept her through Uganda’s 20 year civil war. A peace that has caused her to remain in a very rural village when other missionaries fled. A peace that pervades so much of her being that for 30 years, Sister Kim has lived and worked in a culture that’s not her own, learning to speak an entirely new language (among endless other cultural nuances), all the while living alone – without any immediate family or a husband.
“I never feel fear,” she pragmatically promised. “Why would I feel fear when I know why I’m here?!”
Indeed, Sister Kim, beyond a shadow of a doubt, knows why she is still living, working, and thriving in a very remote Ugandan village.
Located in Nebbi, a district in northwest Uganda that is situated between Gulu (an area known by many due to its recent history involving the Lord’s Resistance Army) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (one can literally see the DRC from the town’s center), Goli village is home to Sister Kim and the level three (soon to be four) Goli District Health Center.
When she first arrived in Goli, the so-called health center consisted of a couple of thatched-roof huts. Inside these semi-permanent structures, doctors dealt with everything from fistula to leprosy, all while a variety of critters crawled overhead.
“There was a time I saw a cat crawling above us while we were administering surgery. But I prayed, and the patient never became infected.”
And that’s what she does. If there’s one word to describe SIster Kim, it is prayer.
For the last 22 years, Sister Kim has woken up at 4:30 am to attend a 5 am prayer service. Every. Single. Day.
This ritual is both a reflection and causation of Sister Kim’s unprecedented selfless nature. She prays because she knows and believes in the one who made her – and this is the reason why she is in Goli.
Sister Kim prays because, she will tell you until her face turns blue,:
The following is a brief Eye Witness Account [Part II] as shared by Saleban – a father and camel herder in Faraguul, Somaliland.
I am uncomfortable.
The UV rays are direct, piercing through my thin cotton shirt. I immediately feel fatigued and sunburned. I’ve been sitting in the Faraguul afternoon sun for a total of 25 minutes.
While I had been sitting inside an air conditioned vehicle, 40-year-old Saleban had been walking for 3 hours, alongside his 30-strong herd of camels, to reach our meeting point. After using a tethered rope attached to a weathered plastic jerry can to draw countless litres of water, he finished rehydrating his long-necked beasts and proceed on the redundant 3 hour journey home.
The climate can best be described as a semi-desert; Its flat, arid land stretches seemingly endless distances. Stoic trees can be found sparsely scattered between Somali homes and small variety shops. A dried river bed divides the tiny village from a number of shallow wells, whose salty water is consumed by the antiseptic tongues of hundreds of camels and the lips of parched goats.
Though Faraguul is divided by a ‘river’, it is more a hallucination of what could be; the land is frequently plagued by devastating droughts.
“I travel this far because this is the nearest water source for my camels,” explains Saleban, his lanky figure leathered from a lifetime spent in the desert sun. “The journey makes me feel tired.”
Recently, World Concern partnered with the Faraguul community to rehabilitate 4 of their shallow wells.
“Before, the wells were made of wood,” says Saleban. “They were not covered so the water was very dirty. Even my animals didn’t like the taste, so they would only drink a little.”
A shallow well pre-rehabilitation.
I can’t even begin to imagine the exhaustion of walking six hours every day to water animals that refused to drink.
“Now the wells are better,” Saleban continues. “They are properly covered and made of quality materials. My animals drink a lot of water.”
Though the number of hours Saleban spends walking in the scorching sun has not decreased, there are still tangible improvements. With healthier animals, Saleban is encouraged, in energy and spirit to provide for his family of ten.
Saleban’s son cools off in the noonday heat.
According to recent reports, only one in three people have access to safe drinking water.
Though progress is being made, 2.9 million Somalis are currently living in a state of humanitarian crisis. Like South Sudan, the situation in Somalia rarely makes headline news, but the severity of the crisis remains very real.
Let’s not forget our dear brothers and sisters. Stay informed:
2.9 million Somalis are in humanitarian crisis
50,000 children are severely malnourished
Women in Somalia face the second highest risk of maternal death in the world and babies are at the highest risk of dying on the day of their birth
1.1 million people are displaced within their own country
Poliohas returned, with 193 cases recorded in the last year
Just 30% of the population has access to clean drinking water
Fewer 1 in 4 people have access to adequate sanitation facilities
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
On the outskirts of Gawsawayne, a village that is itself located on the fringes, Amina Daar squats on the dirt floor of her Somali home, chatting with a neighbor.
Born and raised in the village’s minority clan, Amina is accustomed to life in isolation.
“I have always been in the minority clan,” shares Amina. “And because of this, no one can respect me.”
Along with seven other households, 40-year-old Amina and her 12 children are cut off from most all of the village resources and livelihoods.
“There is no water or food. There are no job opportunities,” she pragmatically explains.
Amina, twice widowed (tragically losing her first husband to conflict and her second to hepatitis), is her family’s sole provider. And following abruptly quitting her job as Gawsawayne’s lead circumciser, “It was a job, but it was bad”, she has been without a steady source of income.
Aside from belonging to the minority clan, life in Gawsawayne is challenging on its own.
Amina walks toward her home – one of seven in the minority community.
Gawsawayne is a rural village located in the Sanag region of Somaliland. The climate can best be described as a semi-desert. Its flat, arid land stretches vast distances, as far as the naked eye can see. Stoic trees are found sparsely scattered between Somali homes and small variety shops.
Due to its drastic seasons, either rainy (read: flooding) or dry (read: drought), even the village’s majority clan can barely access enough clean water; they survive on the water collected in a few berkads (rainwater catchment systems) and shallow wells.
Amina drinks water gathered from the dirty, stinky shallow well.
Amina, on the other hand, is not allowed access to these water sources. Thus, she walks two hours every day (four hours roundtrip) to gather water from a dirty, dirty (seriously, it’s so dirty) well.
“The water from the shallow well is not clean. It even has a bad smell. Its water makes us sick. And the couple of jerry cans I am able to carry are not enough to provide for all of the people in my family.”
For years, Amina’s clan has practiced traditional methods of medicine in an attempt to heal their ever-present stomach ailments.
“We take a stick with fire and burn dots on the skin around the stomach and liver – this helps to ease the pain and rid us of the sickness,” she explains.
Ironically, peering out of Amina’s doorway, the blaring noonday sun can be seen reflecting off of the metal slopes of a nearby berkad. Unfortunately, though it is in such close proximity, this berkad has been out of service for years – its life-giving source now an idle village landmark.
Amina stands in front of the recently rehabilitated berkad.
After discussing with Gawsawayne’s village elders, World Concern and the majority clan agreed to rehabilitate this now dilapidated piece of metal. Recognizing the need, the elders thought it best to give Amina and her community a beneficial resource as well as another means of income.
With anticipation, Amina illustrates, “When the rains come, the rehabilitated berkad will fill with water. The community has decided that it will be my job to sell this water to other people so that I can make money to feed my family and maintain the berkad.”
Not only will the rehabilitated berkad provide Amina and her family with funds, it will also significantly improve their overall well-being.
“YES,” Amina loudly proclaims, “this berkad will improve our health – we can use it for drinking and washing clothes! I will have more energy every day because I won’t be spending hours collecting water.”
Still stooped on the dirt floor, gazing out of her hut’s humble doorway, in a dream-like state Amina proudly aspires, “When I get enough money I plan to open a small shop…start my own business.”
As is deeply rooted in the Somali culture, whatever one has belongs to the entire community (in a short ten days, I witnessed this beautiful conviction lived out in a genuine manner). Amina’s neighbors, her community and family, will equally benefit from the refurbished berkad.
Still day-dreaming, Amina continues to describe her berkad.
A single image, once viewed, has irrevocable powers.
Whether positive or negative, whatever is portrayed in the four-edged frame will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression.
As with most other art forms, a photo is interpreted based on the preconceived notions, philosophies, experiences, and ideologies of the individual viewer. Additionally, that very same photo is framed by the preconceived notions, philosophies, experiences, and ideologies of the photographer.
A photo can be captured with the intention to portray a feeling of hope and interpreted to mean disparity and desolation.
A single photo has the ability to personally connect to an endless number of people on an endless number of levels.
To summarize, photos are influential and should consistently be valued as such.
Recently I found myself chatting with a friend about the current crisis in South Sudan. We were discussing that though there is clearly a pressing need for humanitarian assistance, there is also need for the outside world to see the other side of life for IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) – the humanity that still exists even in the most inhumane circumstances.
My friendcandidly told me, “I want to see images that show IDPs as more than suffering masses.”
While visiting four IDP sites in Warrap State, South Sudan, I found myself frequently dumbfounded by the jaw-dropping beauty of the women. Of course, we all know that South Sudanese women tend to err on the side of gorgeous; what floored me was that they managed to remain equally beautiful while living in very basic, if not dire, conditions.
To be honest, this could have largely been due to the fact that I felt like a never-ending river of dusty sweat thanks to extreme climate that is dry-season in South Sudan. But, I’d venture its safe to say that these women are just straight-up drop dead gorgeous.
The juxtaposition of the following photos is just further evidence that beauty can exist even in dire circumstances.
Introducing a new perspective on IDPs in Warrap State: South Sudan’s Hidden IDP Models.
For more information about World Concern’s work in South Sudan, and how you can get involved, click here.
It was the third IDP (Internally Displaced Person) site I’d visited in two days, all within a two hour radius. Though the dusty, sparsely forested scenery had not changed, the number of people at each site seemed to grow exponentially. 900, 1500, 6000.
Each IDP site shouted the same story: too many people living under little to no shelter with little to no food – all of them exhausted and unsure where, or whether, they would get their next meal.
Sitting on that stray log transformed into a mangled seat, my mind was in two places.
While Majok spoke, his words were so vivid that they became tangible – tugging at my nerves and swelling into my tear ducts. I felt ready to burst.
Simultaneously, my brain sent out an extensive Morse code of warning signals: “This isn’t real”, “Where are you?” and “Why are you here?”, “No one should have to suffer this much”; my subconscious attempt at emotional self-preservation.
His bloodshot eyes appeared a vacuum of emotions. Without a hint of expression, they spoke directly to me.
Neither blinking nor wandering Majok’s hollow eyes told me a story I didn’t want to hear.
As soon as he heard there was fighting in his village (Mayom County, Unity State), Majok wanted to see for himself.
“At that time when the fighting broke out I went to roam,” he told me. “Then the fighting got worse so I fled with other people. My family was left at home.”
Running for hours, Majok was eventually picked up by a UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) truck full of people and carried to an IDP site in Warrap State.
IDPs clamor to squeeze onto a lorry truck which will transport them to a nearby state.
Majok left his home in mid-December. I spoke with him on February 13, nearly two months since he last saw his family.
Stoically, as if routine, Majok shared, “When I came here (the IDP site), people told me they didn’t know whether my father and mother are alive – even up to now.”
Still to receive an IDP registration card, Majok has not been given any rations of food and non-food items. He has made his new ‘home’ around the circumference of a tree; its gargantuan roots tell stories of 20 years of civil war and human suffering.
Welcomed by a group of group of women who left his hometown of Mayom, Majok sleeps in good company. Unfortunately, though it’s been two months, no one in this family unit has obtained a registration card.
“I don’t know how to get food. The women I stay with beg for food from other people who have registration cards. Sometimes we eat the leaves from this tree,” Majok tells me, gesturing upwards.
Wandering around the massive IDP site, already overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, I was floored to see that a significant portion are without any form of shelter.
Infographic about the number of IDPs in South Sudan. Dated February 3, 2014
According to some sources, out of the estimated 6,000 people at this site, around 1,000 have not been registered.
“We don’t eat every day. Maybe we will if we can get dura (a local grain), but I last ate four days ago,” says Majok. “I cannot sleep because I left my father and my mother. I worry about them because I don’t know whether they are alive or not. And I worry about me because I don’t know where I will get food or where I will stay.”
Majok sits under the tree he calls home with the women he now calls family.
Serving in communications for an organization whose mission is to go to the end of the road and stay there, my working hours translate into spending time with hundreds of individuals who all have equally heart-wrenching stories.
Despite the fact that Majok and I were surrounded by a hundred plus people (it’s difficult to do an interview in IDP camps without serving as entertainment for the entire population), 200% of my attention was on him. Well, more like 200% of me – emotions and all.
I may still be figuring this whole interview-process thing out, but I’ve managed to fumble my way into remaining focused on gathering the story at hand while concurrently expressing sympathy and humanity.
I’m working on finding that magical spot between acting as a ‘Q&A robot’ and a ‘blubbering sob-fest’.
But there are times when the tears must, and should, come. And there are times when they must be stored away.
More than in any interview before, I wanted nothing else than to reach out and hold Majok’s hand.
I wanted to grasp it and squeeze it and tell him that maybe I’m just a little person with a big camera, but I have a big heart and it is all his.
By the powers of my magical hand hold, I wanted Majok to know and believe that his story is important and it will not be forgotten.
I longed to promise him that I will tell other people that there are things in this world, that are beyond me messed up, that are hurting acutely innocent people. And on behalf of Majok, and the other 1 million displaced people in South Sudan, I will not be quiet.
Majok is an 18-year-old boy, he is not an IDP. His IDP status is merely the product of a fragile country (still the newest in the world) in the state of a horribly violent crisis.
Keep informed. Don’t stop reading. Pray without ceasing. Give. And share.
“This is something I have to reconcile with every day because I know that if I ever let genuine compassion to be overcome by personal ambition, then I know I have sold my soul.” – James Nachtwey, War Photographer
There’s this little theory I have. It’s a theory that has increasingly become molded into the foundation of my morals and convictions; an integrated part of my being.
No matter how vastly different two people may seem (look, talk, act), there is always a way to connect with one another.
Landon (my bro) talks with Kisea. // Maji Moto, Kenya.
While I spent hours engrossed in the process of familiarizing myself with the people and details of Enchoro Village (i.e. interviewing, touring property, sharing tea, taking hundreds of photos), Noosalash patiently sat waiting in a sliver of shade produced by a World Concern Land Rover.
Toying with a discarded plastic Krest bottle, she peered up at me with a shy grin as I approached her. It’s no surprise that most beneficiaries I meet react to me with slight intimidation; in the field I tend to look like a half-human/half-robot – one arm carrying my large tripod while the other balances my camera bag, microphones, and lenses. (Yes, my looks alone have been the cause of children’s tears.)
As Noosalash led me to her home, romping over fallen acacias and dried up river beds, the conversation between us seemed to flow. In fact, we talked for the entire 15 minute walk.
A little background…
Noosalash: 40-year-old mother of 8 from Enchoro, Kenya. Maasai. Speaks mainly Maasai and a bit of Kiswahili.
Kelly: a 26-year-old single woman from Seattle, Washington. American. Speaks mainly English and a bit of Kiswahili.
Arriving at Noosalash’s compound, giggling with each other, my colleagues looked at us puzzled, “What were you talking about that whole time?”
Noosalash creating beautifully intricate Maasai jewelry to be sold in town.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.
As we walked, I would say something in Kiswahili, then Noosalash would respond in Maasai. She would proceed to say something in Kiswahili, then I would respond in English.
Somehow, despite our tri-lingual exchange, meeting on a very peculiar level, Noosalash and I understood each other.
By the time we’d reached her house, Noosalash no longer looked at me from the corner of her eye. Instead, she playfully batted my arms as I teased her about carrying such a huge stack of wood. Grabbing my hand, she led me to see inside her manyatta (traditional Maasai home) and then over to a patch of shade. We plopped down under the shelter of the compound’s largest tree, where Noosalash was creating intricate pieces of traditional Maasai jewelry.
Similar to 99.9% of the women in Enchoro , Noosalash never received a proper education. Like most, she was married by the age of ten and immediately proceeded to have children and care for the home. Though she does not harbor bitter feelings toward her upbringing, Noosalash believes in something more for her children.
“I plan to send all of my children to school through doing odd jobs – making beads, selling livestock, and other kinds of casual labor,” shared Noosalash.
Unfortunately, no matter the commitment of her labor of love, there is a strong chance that Noosalash’s children will have to cut their education short.
Like Olemegili, Enchoro’s school only goes up to grade 4.
According to 28-year-old Rose Pesi, an Enchoro’s primary (elementary) school teacher, “It’s tough to be a teacher in this school because we don’t have enough classrooms for our children. We have 2 classrooms and there are 4 grades.”
Rose pensively sit at her desk in one of Enchoro’s classrooms.
After finishing grade 3, students either drop out of school, repeat a grade, or walk two hours (each way) to Olesere, the nearest town with a better equipped school.
“This school is far,” explains 11-year-old Francis. “When I go to visit, it takes me two hours by foot.”
Francis, who is number one in his class (quite possibly because he has had to repeat grade three due to the fact that he is still too young to walk all the way to Olesere), can attest to the community’s heartfelt desire to educate their children.
“Life in Enchoro is a bit difficult because we don’t have a good school with classes to graduate to,” he points out. “Some students are kept by their parents from going to Olesere because they are still very young. I don’t like it when children have to go to another school.”
Whenever diligently working Francis is given the opportunity to complete his education, he has big plans, “I want to be a teacher so that I can teach the children.”
Francis in the classroom where he is repeating grade 3.
Of the four individuals I had the privilege of spending time with in Enchoro, 100% voiced that their village’s greatest need is a larger school.
Emphasizing her point, Rose confidently reiterated, “The greatest need in this village is to get extra classrooms for our children.”
It’s clear that the desire to grow in knowledge is innate. Having never lived outside of Narok (and most likely never outside of her very rural homestead), Noosalash remains far from ignorant, “I want this village to develop. I want us to have a school.”
It seems that education should be viewed as more than rote-memorization and tedious coursework.
In fact, education could be the spark that ignited my connection with Noosalash. It is our shared passionate curiosity and inquisitive nature that drives us both to question the world and people around us. Like many, we both have the desire to learn; and this is stronger than any physical, cultural, or linguistic barrier that may superficially appear to hold us apart.