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Archives for May 11, 2017

What does Mother’s Day look like in South Sudan?

Women arriving after walking through the swamp for hours. Photo: Pedro Mariel/Oxfam

Swamp is all that many South Sudanese mothers can see for miles. They journey through it, by foot or canoe, pursuing food. Medicine. Aid. The bare minimum to keep their children going during this time of hunger and conflict.

Years of conflict in South Sudan has resulted in famine. Over five million people – 40 per cent of the population – are in desperate need of food assistance.

Usually, only women and their children make this journey. Leave their homes in pursuit of survival. The husbands stay back, hoping to protect their homes from becoming a casualty of conflict.

Fuelled by ground water lily bulbs and the occasional swamp-dwelling fish, mothers make these trips motivated by the thought of being able to provide for their children and keep them safe.

Dylan Quinnell, a Kiwi who works for Oxfam Australia, was recently in South Sudan. He heard some of the stories of these courageous mothers first-hand, and told them to Radio New Zealand (link):

“They told us of how they had to get their children, get their belongings, hide in the bush for two days with no food as the fighting was all around them. As soon as it was safe enough they put the children and what few goods they had onto tarpaulins and actually dragged them through the swamps for as many as nine days.

”One of the mothers we met was eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time and she actually gave birth to her daughter in the swamp. She’s given her a name in South Sudanese that means ‘born in a crisis’.”

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach-Feder/Oxfam

Fleeing recent attacks, Nyandiew (right) and Nyachak (far left) ferried their children to safety via canoe. They had to leave their husbands behind and now they cannot go home. If they go to the mainland, they worry they won’t be able to receive food from the World Health Programme.

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach-Feder/Oxfam

Tabitha is resting with her daughter, who is sucking on “tuok’’ (a dry seed from a palm tree).

“I was here before as an IDP [internally displaced person] and returned home in late 2016,” she says. “It is so unfortunate that the conflict resurfaced again. I do not think I will go back again until I am sure all is well again. Most of our animals died on the way. We feed on water lilies, fish, and anything we could find in the river. What we currently need is food, medication and NFIs [non-food items] shall be of great assistance to us. The more time it takes the worse it shall be for us.”

Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect the individuals.

The people of South Sudan are doing all they can to help themselves. We need to get more food, clean water, and other vital support to the most vulnerable people.