South Sudan, Republic of

In South Sudan, a single mother’s fight to survive

By Kate Donovan

Forced to flee violence and struggling to feed her three children, a woman in South Sudan is one of thousands to get help from a UNICEF/WFP Rapid Response Mission – and one of millions still trying desperately to survive.

PATHAI, South Sudan, 10 October 2014 – The remoteness of Cuaca’s new home makes it a hard place to raise her three children. There are no roads, markets, hospitals or schools. Two of the four wells in the village are broken, while the population that depends on this water has doubled.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF South Sudan/2014/Donovan
Cuaca, 22, with her daughters Nyadieng, Mawiek and Nyawech, waiting to receive food vouchers during a UNICEF/WFP Rapid Response Mission in Pathai, Jonglei State, South Sudan. She has already spent several hours waiting to register.

After violence broke out in their hometown of Bor, Cuaca and her daughters – 4-year-old Mawiek, 2-year-old Nyawech and baby Nyadieng – travelled on foot for 10 days to reach Pathai, in Jonglei state, with few belongings other than the clothes on their backs. During the journey, baby Nyawech was tucked into a Moses basket positioned skillfully on her mother’s head. Each night, the family slept under the stars with others who had run for their lives.

“I fled because I am afraid of guns and afraid to be shot and killed,” says Cuaca, an elegant woman of 22 years who is waiting in line to register with UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), who have arrived here by helicopter with life-saving supplies and services, the first humanitarian aid in nine months.

Pathai is in the grip of a hunger crisis affecting more than 2 million people in South Sudan. At first, local residents shared with the newcomers what little food they had stockpiled, but supplies quickly ran out. The health of children from the displaced population as well as from the host community quickly deteriorated, putting thousands of lives at risk.

So how have they survived for so long with nothing? “We are eating leaves off the trees,” Cuaca says, gesturing to the tree behind them. As she tells her story, the youngest chews on grass, and Cuaca pauses to offer an explanation. “She is hungry.”

Sole protector

Cuaca was married when she was only 14. Her mother and father had just died, and with no means to provide for herself, she needed a husband. When her husband later left, she became the sole protector and provider for her children, with some support from her brother.

On hearing that a UNICEF and WFP mission had arrived in the village, Cuaca came immediately, hoping to receive food for her children. There are thousands of other people lined up in need of assistance, most of them women and children, and it will be hours before Cuaca can register and receive a WFP food voucher. But for the first time in weeks, her daughters will be able to enjoy a nutritious meal.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF South Sudan/2014/Donovan
Cuaca walked with her children for 10 days from their hometown of Bor in bare feet, carrying her baby in a basket on her head and sleeping in the open with other fleeing women and children.

Next, her children are screened for malnutrition and vaccinated against measles by UNICEF. By the end of the mission, 30,000 children and adults will have received vital assistance.

Cuaca hopes that the conflict will end soon so that her daughters can finish school and have more opportunities than she did.

“If they could get an education, they could help me in the future,” she says. “They can be married when they are 18, not 14, like me.”

She would also like to return to her home and her brother in Bor.

Against the odds

Since violence struck the country in December last year, the vast majority of South Sudan’s 1.4 million internally displaced people have fled to remote locations – taking refuge in the bush, on river islands or in far-flung villages. For months on end, they have survived against the odds, desperately waiting for peace and a return to normality.

The joint UNICEF and WFP Rapid Response Missions, supported by donations from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), the Government of Japan and the IKEA Foundation, have reached more than half a million people by air in remote areas, including 100,000 children under 5, with life-saving services and supplies.


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Reaching remote areas

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