Tag Archives: IDPs

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

 

Seeing IDPs as More. // Models in Warrap State.

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 friend candidly 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.

 

Majok Deng. Not an IDP. // Crisis in South Sudan.

An IDP's 'home'. // South Sudan.

An IDP’s ‘home’. // South Sudan.

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 carrying people to a nearby 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’s  narrative is not isolated. His currently crappy (I’d like to replace this with a stronger word if it were appropriate to do so…) situation is one in one million (sources claim the crisis has displaced over 900,000 people).

Majok sits under the tree he calls home with the women he now calls family.

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