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What it really means to be ‘displaced’ in South Sudan

World Vision
13 June 2014 by James East
What it really means to be ‘displaced’ in South Sudan

A girl stands in front of makeshift shelters set up by families who fled their homes in South Sudan.

When Nyachin Bol Akol’s children are hungry and there is nothing to eat, she draws a clump of river grass from a bag or throws a handful of leaves picked from a tree into a pot and boils them.

The leaves are tasteless but they keep her children’s hunger pangs at bay when they ask her, “Mummy, give me food, give me millet.” There is no millet for the children now, only sorghum, a staple which when mixed with water becomes a simple porridge of little nutritional value. Nyachin has to beg for it from the local villagers who are hosting her and another 8,000 people who fled the unfolding violence in their communities.

Nyachin has no proper food in her simple shelter and only feeds her five children one meal a day. They drink water from the river Nile, but it’s dirty and often causes sickness. In the corner her five-year-old daughter Athei, five, is weak and lethargic, the typical symptoms of someone who is malnourished and starved of protein and other vital nutrients.

This family’s situation is repeated across Rom. Families who fled the arrival of armed groups opposed to the current government arrived in Rom after arduous journeys that lasted days. Hundreds of makeshift thatch and plastic shelters have sprung up. The town’s school is closed and has become a shelter for the displaced. The health clinic is basic and cannot meet the needs of this growing community. In a desperate attempt to find food some men walk eight hours to the nearest farms to do ad hoc work in exchange for food.

World Vision is now in Rom to organise the registration of the displaced so they are eligible for World Food Programme rations, food that will arrive by river barge and be distributed by World Vision. Once they are registered they will begin to receive a regular flow of rations, which they haven’t been getting so far.

The district government officer here lists a host of basic things the displaced people need – clean water, medicines, food, and the return of schooling. “Most of the displaced are ill due to malnourishment. Water-borne communicable diseases are a problem and diarrhea is on the rise.  We need to do something before the rains arrive.”

Nyachin’s family’s life, like many others, has been completely overturned by the violence. “I had so many things in my home. I had goats and cows. The children slept on mattresses and had mosquito nets. I had no complaints,” she says. But when the anti-government militia arrived they burned the family home and killed some 40 of her neighbours. She fled with her five children. Her husband was elsewhere at the time and they were separated. She walked day and night for a week with her children, her 18-month-old twins on each hip and another child hanging from her neck. Along the way she found someone who helped her. The family arrived in Rom with nothing, and the little they have has been given. Some of the children don’t even have clothes to cover their decency.

Clan leader Dau Athor Ching sits in the shade of a tree with his fellow elders and shares his concerns.  “You can’t count the number of children who have died, who have been killed, who have died from hunger or thirst. Life here is very difficult. When there is no food, whenever they get sick they can die because they have no energy. So many children have died that we have stopped counting.”Lem Monykuer, 15, says he is only eating sorghum porridge, a dish called akop. “We don’t get anything here. I eat akop without any salt, meat or fish. I eat once a day. I’m hungry. When I get up in the morning I don’t have any energy.”

World Vision is set to provide food rations in this community, once registration is complete and food transport has been arranged. Learn more about the South Sudan crisis or donate to World Vision’s response.

James East

James East is the Emergency Communications Director at World Vision International.


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