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Hungry months come early in South Sudan

07 February 2017

Trócaire’s Sean Farrell presents a portrait of daily life in Adior County, South Sudan, where he finds extraordinary resilience and kindness amidst the chaos of conflict, displacement and food shortages. 

A little girl walks slowly along the red dusty path. Behind her she pulls a toy – a piece of dark charred wood with two empty perfume bottles playing the role of dolls. The perfume bottles clink together as she walks and she smiles at the music she creates. 

Two old men sit under a large tree. Macer sits in front of his blind friend Magot. It is peaceful but windy, and the dust is blown into their faces. They speak about war sitting on plastic chairs in the shadow of an army truck. It looms over us and indeed over both their lives. 

Elizabeth Adut Yac sits in the shade, looking pensive and worried. She has travelled to this village seeking sanctuary from the fighting that has engulfed parts of South Sudan. She spent eight days fleeing to this village, living every moment in fear that some or all of her five children might die on the journey. 

Mary Nyidhal has six children and struggles every day to feed them. Despite that daily grind, she has taken another family of four into her house who are fleeing the fighting. So now she has more mouths to feed and added struggles every day. She shrugs her shoulders and says we have to do what we can. 

Nyanyom Bec is just five years old. She sits outside a house where her family now live after fleeing the fighting in a neighbouring area. It is noon and it is hot but she has not yet eaten today. Her mother has gone to get water two hours walk away and she is at home alone with her seven-year-old brother and three-year-old sister. They only eat once a day when her parents can collect some wild berries or wild plants. She tells me quietly that she gets really hungry at night time. She is the same age as my little boy, Luka. Their lives could not be more different. 

These are the stories of the people of South Sudan. Five years after celebrating its independence, the country is now gripped by war, fighting, poverty and hunger. 

Some, 2.2 million people have been internally displaced and an additional 1.2 million have fled to neighbouring countries. Crop failure has heaped misery upon misery and now millions survive at the very edges of life. 

Macer & MagotFriends Macer and Magot in Adior County, South Sudan, February 2017

Macer, Magot, Elizabeth, Mary and Nyanyom have been supported by a Trócaire project. Water points, food aid, cooking oil and small simple kitchen utensils. But the need we are seeing is honestly overwhelming. The water points I saw this week are working but already the food has run out. 

In this part of South Sudan, called Adior County, the hungry season is normally June and July when food stocks have been depleted and the new harvest is yet to come. But today is the first day of February and already hunger is evident. It is going to be a long and hard six months until any harvest brings relief. If these people are to survive, food aid and vital life-saving support will be necessary. 

Working with local church groups in South Sudan, we will do what we can, with the funds available to us to reach thousands of families over the coming months. We must respond and every cent here makes a massive difference. 

We will provide food to struggling families in the weeks to come while also distributing seeds and tools for people to plant crops, or the cycle of hunger pangs will simply continue and deepen. 

I sit down with Nyanyom outside her house looking at the empty pot just across the dirt yard. I think of my own kids and what sits on our kitchen table back in Ireland. It’s hard not to. 

And I think of a toy car and my laughing child, as I look at two perfume bottles rattling up the street. 

It’s in our nature and in our humanity to care and love. It is what drives a mother with her children through eight days of fear that I can’t even imagine. And it is what drives an already struggling woman to open her doors to a family fleeing an even worse situation than her own. 

Adior had a population of 15,000 before the war. It now has a population of 26,000. 11,000 people have moved into Adior, being housed, fed and supported as they flee areas consumed by fighting. 

Forty per cent of the community are now displaced people living with families already struggling with their own problems. It is an astounding situation. And it puts Ireland’s fanfare of accepting 4,000 refugees from Syria in context. 

Tomorrow I will go back to a world dealing with immoral executive orders, building up walls and driving people apart through fear. 

Mary, Elizabeth and Nyanyom know nothing of these global events. 

But they know something about love and humanity. If only those gracious gifts came easier to some in power.