Photo credits: Top image - Andrew Parsons/I-Image; Mother and child - Whitney Smith
Our colleague Whitney Smith recently returned from conflict-ridden Sudan and shares the story of Kola, a woman she met at Man Awan, a camp for Internally Displaced People in Warrap state
Jul 1 2015
Despite the 110 degree heat, over one hundred women and their children are waiting patiently in line to partake in our Blanket Supplementary Feeding Programme, supported by WFP. The programme aims to prevent malnutrition in young children. Mostly women live in Man Awan, a camp for Internally Displaced People in Warrap state, one of several settlements in Twic County where Action Against Hunger is working. Having fled the violence of South Sudan’s conflict, they are left to care and provide for their children. Many arrived with nothing and are struggling to survive amidst extreme poverty.
One woman, Kola Madit, shared her story with me. She sat beneath a tree while two of her three children bounced around on her lap and her son played the drums on her knee with an empty plastic bottle. Like most women here, Kola feeds her children with the money she earns from selling firewood or bundles of grass she collects from the forest. As that usually doesn’t provide enough to get by, Kola asks her neighbours to let her help with household chores in exchange for food, mostly sorghum.
She sleeps on a dirt floor shared with her children and her sisters, under a wooden frame covered in a plastic sheet. The assistance they receive from Action Against Hunger and partner organisations is essential to their survival. This includes two boreholes that provide clean water, latrines, bathing shelters and hygiene kits that help keep disease at bay. Our team also helps promote safe sanitation practices and trains people on the importance of daily hygiene to prevent sickness.
'Life was not always like this'
“When I compare the life [I had] before and life now, it’s very difficult. Before I was living very well because the resources were there in my house…The life was good – whatever I needed, I could get it. But during the fighting, all these things were left and I ran into nothing. Before I used to sleep on a mattress, but now there’s no mattress, no bed – I’m just sleeping [under] the plastic sheet that was given to me.”
At 17 years old, Kola had two children and a baby on the way. She was married and worked at a local restaurant near her home outside of Bentiu, Unity state. But in December 2013, her life irrevocably changed when conflict erupted and violence flooded into her community. Amidst gunshots and bloodshed, her husband told her to flee and not look back. Carrying nothing but her two children, she ran for their lives.
“It was very scary when I was coming [to Man Awan] because when we were running, the shooting was still there – you can run and one person is shot dead and then you run like that [in another direction] and find another person in front of you…”
Tragically, Kola lost three of her seven siblings during their escape. Her younger sister was shot in front of her and, despite Kola’s best efforts, she wasn’t able to save her. The trauma of such a horrific ordeal remains with her to this day.
“Many people died in my family. Up until now, I am still crying. When I remember them, I cry. When I sleep, I wake up in the night like I’m still in the fighting…my sister was a close friend to me and we did things together. But the time when she was shot dead, I went to carry her and she died in my hands, so now I will not forget completely. And I will not forget her, her physical appearance is still in my head. That is still affecting me up until now. Sometimes I dream like I’m chatting with her – we are talking, we are laughing – but when I arise and realize it was a dream I begin to cry.”
Kola spent two days without food or water hiding with a group of women and children in the bush. Eventually, they made it by foot to Mayom County in Unity state, where they met a man who helped those fleeing by cooking food for the small children. The situation was so desperate, mothers felt pressured to leave behind their smallest children for fear that they wouldn’t all make the journey alive.
Miraculously, after walking for days, they reached Man Awan. Kola is now 19 years old. She and her three children, along with her four remaining sisters, have lived in this camp ever since their escape. To this day, she does not know if her husband is alive or dead. Kola says they have no intention of returning home, but instead are hoping that things will change for the better here.
“We are still suffering and if we get the support from aid agencies, the support that we are getting now is the support that is helping us with our children. If there are no aid agencies that help, we would not survive.”
A story of strength and resilience
When helping families like Kola’s, we provide immediate assistance with food and cash transfers, but also look forward to ensure that crops can be replanted and that we can stave off malnutrition in the long term with a richer, more diverse diet.
Kola’s story matters and her voice and her struggle deserve to be heard. Hers is a story of such fierce strength and resilience – it’s the story of a fighter who, despite all the odds stacked against her, survived and is surviving. And it’s the same story echoed by thousands more innocent South Sudanese who have been caught in the crossfire of conflict.
“Today you may have something, but tomorrow that thing is lost. You can be rich today and tomorrow you will be poor. So like before, I was having everything in my house. But right now I have nothing and I cannot get anything for my children. So I pray to God, knowing that tomorrow I will be better again and I will get something. Though I stay here today, I hope that I will get something tomorrow.”
Better days ahead are long overdue for Kola and the thousands of South Sudanese women who share her story. They’ve already done the heavy lifting, they’re just waiting for the rest of the world to get in their corner – supporters like you who have the means to help Kola get what she longs for tomorrow, today.
Take urgent action and help the forgotten children of South Sudan