South Sudan

  • Fighting has ravaged South Sudan for the past three-and-a-half years. More than six million people – 45 percent of the population – are facing extreme hunger. As many as 7.5 million people now need humanitarian assistance. More than 1 million of these people are children who are acutely malnourished. On top of this, as many as 3.8 million people have fled their homes; with more than 2 million seeking safety in neighbouring countries like Uganda, where there are now 1 million South Sudanese refugees.

South Sudan: What it means to love yourself

You can keep girl from school, but you can’t keep a girl from dreaming. Oxfam teamed up with photojournalist Andreea Campaneau to bring the hopes of young women in Nyal into focus. She taught them basic photography skills, so they could learn to document their own stories.

young woman smiling
Rose, 16, is one of the Noura Nyal Kids, a group of young women from Nyal, South Sudan. Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

According to 2017 reports, South Sudan is the worst place in the world for girls’ education. As many as 73% of school-age girls don’t even get to attend primary school. In South Sudanese society, there is an expectation that women are defined by marriage, rather than education or career. Oxfam research found that in Nyal—a town in the northern part of the country--in particular, rates of early and forced marriage are among the highest in the world.

The young women Campaneau worked with refer to their collective as “Noura Nyal”—Noura” meaning “love yourself’ in the Nuer language. They shared their desires to leave domestic sphere, become educated, and share in the same opportunities as their brothers. Read their aspirations below in their own words.

Mary, 16

Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“I want to be a ruler one day. I want to be a queen, a strong queen. Right now, I feel like playing the jumping rope makes me strong. That’s why I love playing it and I want to have my picture taken with it.”

Nyadak, 16

Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“I am 16, but I have never been to school. This is why I want my picture to be taken in a classroom, next to a blackboard. I live a in small island off the main town of Nyal, and it would take for me at least an hour to go from that island to the school in the main town.

“The boys in the island still get to go to school. Their parents would send them. But, as a girl, I have to stay in the island, help with the household chores, and sometimes look for food in the swamps like fish and water lilies.”

Nyakuma

Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“At night, after a hard day of hard work, fetching water, cleaning the house, and cooking, I always stop and think about what I want to do when I grow up. I want to be a doctor so I can help the sick people.

I also want to be a driver. I want to drive my own pick-up car so I can see places outside Nyal. I want to drive to different corners of South Sudan and meet new people.

I hope I will be able to finish school. I also hope that there will finally be peace in my country so that girls like me can have an opportunity to do business. I hope for peace because it means I can drive safely across the country without fear of being attacked.”

Rose, 16

Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“School is everything to me. It’s a very special place because I am surrounded by other kids like me and we get to play my favorite sport, which is volleyball. In school, I can see that I can be a leader because other kids look up to me. I am good in a lot of subjects, especially science, so other kids follow my lead. I know that if I finish school, I can be who I want to be. And I want to be a pilot. I want to be a pilot, like those men driving those big planes, coming to Nyal to deliver goods… maybe even become a pilot who travels the world to see different places.

I love school and how it makes me feel. When I arrive home, I need to start cleaning the house, do the laundry, fetch water from the borehole, cook. Sometimes, I envy my brothers when I see them play outside with their friends. As the girl in the family, I have so many responsibilities that I can’t even do my homework. I hope I don’t have to marry; that could mean I won’t have time to go to school.”

Grace, 16

Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“I love Nyal, but I feel like Nyal can be better. If there’s peace in the country, maybe Nyal can be better, and then the situation will also be better for us girls living here.”

Spreading the love for the Noura Nyal Kids

These photos taken by the Noura Nyal Kids were displayed as part of Oxfam’s “Love Yourself: the Girls of Nyal, South Sudan” exhibit at Photoville NYC in the USA in September 2019. Oxfam America asked people who stopped by the exhibit to write a letter of encouragement to the young women in the series. Hundreds of visitors participated, and in October, they shipped the letters to Nyal.

Letters from visitors at Photoville NYC to the Noura Nyal Kids. Photo: Oxfam

One letter reads: "Your voice, your vision is so needed. We see you. We hear you. We need to keep speaking through your art. Keep going. Keep creating. Keep being exactly who you are!"

Help Oxfam’s shops celebrate National Book Lovers Day

Celebrate National Book Lovers Day with us!

As well as Oxfam’s local shops throughout the island of Ireland selling donated books, we also have five dedicated Oxfam Books stores bursting with must-reads and covering all genres: Rathmines and Parliament Street in Dublin; Ann Street and Botanic Avenue in Belfast; and French Church Street in Cork.

We hear from our retail team, who are ready to help you source a bargain from the varied range of book titles available while you are in-store.

Oxfam Ireland’s Head of Retail Michael McIlwaine

Book shops are special places and Oxfam is extra special, because every book donated and purchased in-store means a positive change in the life of someone who really needs it overseas.

Oxfam shops are so familiar on our high streets that it's easy to forget how much good they do. By buying and donating books, CDs and DVDs and other goods, you are helping raise vital funds for Oxfam’s work from emergency responses to long-term development programmes.

If you spend just €5/£5 on books in an Oxfam shop, Oxfam can provide a month’s food for two people affected by the present hunger crisis affecting millions of people in South Sudan, Yemen and Ethiopia; €25/£25 can help a family of six with food for two months.

So on this National Book Lovers Day, take some time out and treat yourself, while helping others. Why not browse and buy in-store – or bring along some books to donate – to make a real difference by helping to raise funds for Oxfam’s life-saving work. You’ll be helping vulnerable people in poverty turn a new page in their lives.

Barth Bialek, Manager of the Oxfam Books in Rathmines, Dublin

Like all the Oxfam Books stores, we have science and natural history, spirituality and philosophy, classical literature, Irish fiction, travel guides and travel writing, crime and thrillers, fantasy and horror, biographies, sport, health and medicine, non-fiction, gardening and cooking, along with children’s books, audio books, music books, drama, poetry and sheet music – plus lots more besides!

To mark National Book Lovers Day, we have a special offer on fiction/novels, offering any two for €5.00, and that will run until Sunday.

Chris Scott, Manager of the Oxfam Books in Botanic Avenue, Belfast

You’ll also find collectable and antiquarian books. Past donations include a book dating back to 1912 about the Titanic along with a Bible from 1587, the year that Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded. Call in and see what you might discover!

Christine Kostick, Manager of the Oxfam Books in Parliament Street, Dublin

We stock thousands of great quality second-hand books and music, with everything from Plato to Peppa Pig and from Nietzsche to New Order. Explore our wide-range of book genres and browse through our CDs, DVDs, classical sheet music and vinyl.

Eleanor Preston, Manager of the Oxfam shop in French Church Street, Cork

We have a wide selection of page-turners. You’ll find fiction best-sellers, literary classics, sci-fi thrillers plus lots more! We also have a music collection and DVDs. Donations of all of these items are gratefully accepted.

Niall Browne, Manager of the Oxfam Books in Ann Street, Belfast

No matter what genre you’re into, there are plenty of great reads waiting to be discovered in-store. We have ‘a wee bit of everything’, from modern fiction to military history and lots more besides. There’s also the occasional first edition, rare book, collector’s item or signed copy. Come in and have a browse!

To find the local Oxfam store nearest to you, visit the website at www.oxfamireland.org/shops

The world has turned its back on South Sudan

Oxfam has been working in South Sudan for over 30 years. Since 2017, we have been responding to a deepening emergency, reaching over 500,000 people across South Sudan with life-saving aid. We also implement long-term development projects to advance gender justice and support people to build resilient livelihoods to help beat poverty now and into the future. In this blog, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, Jim Clarken, reflects on his recent trip there.

South Sudan - A Country in Crisis

South Sudan is a country in crisis – a country on the brink of what could well become the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Yet tragically, for the people of this young nation, their ongoing plight has failed to make the headlines.

For more than four years, the people of South Sudan have been caught up in a brutal civil war. The violence has had a devastating impact on the country’s citizens, millions of whom are suffering from extreme hunger as a result.

More than 4 million people have fled their homes since war broke out in December 2013. And last year alone, some 700,000 people fled South Sudan to neighbouring countries – that means that in 2017, more than one person fled the country every minute.

When I visited South Sudan earlier this month, I met many people whose lives have been turned upside down by the ongoing conflict. I spoke to women grieving for their dead children, families who have had to flee their homes and farmers forced to abandon their land – ordinary people, who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves caught up in the crisis.

Oxfam Ireland CEO Jim Clarken speaks with local fisherman in Nyal, South Sudan. Credit: Ben Clancy/Oxfam Ireland

People can no longer protect themselves and their families from the destabilising impact of war. There are battles on every front. Inflation rates are so high that the price of even basic foodstuffs is beyond the reach of families. Meanwhile, farmers who have had no choice but to leave their land are missing out on harvests – leaving the country’s food stocks at dangerously low levels.

In February of last year, famine was declared in two counties – Leer and Mayendit. At that time, 100,000 people were facing famine, and one million more were on the brink. A strong humanitarian response has undoubtedly kept famine at bay but the need for aid is more urgent than ever. In fact, an estimated 1.6 million more people are now more at risk than when famine was declared in 2017. And while the United Nations World Food Programme has been carrying out food drops in South Sudan, the supplies aren’t enough for the population which finds itself in a race against time.

During my visit I travelled to the islands around Nyal in Unity State, which have seen a large influx of people fleeing the violence. There I met many people who have been displaced and are now in a dire situation. Many arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs, joining countless others with shared experiences. It had taken one group of women I spoke to seven days to reach safety. Having endured the harrowing and terrifying journey, they finally got the chance to grieve the children they had lost along the way.

With the support of Irish Aid, Oxfam Ireland is on the ground in Nyal, providing canoes to bring the sick and vulnerable from the islands to access life-saving aid and health care. We have also set up community gardens in the region, which enable people to grow their own food, or sell it to earn an income. And our protection teams are working with girls and women to ensure their safety in a new and unfamiliar environment.

Villagers of RAFONE island gather to meet Oxfam staff and discuss the progress they’ve made since receiving aid. Credit: Ben Clancy/Oxfam Ireland

Yet, despite our best efforts, the humanitarian situation remains dire – and it’s getting worse by the day. With other stories dominating the global headlines, I fear that South Sudan will be forgotten.

There is an onus on all of us to make sure the plight of this young nation is no longer ignored.

Women in South Sudan plow forward in their fields—and in their homes

An Oxfam program supplies female farmers with the tools to manage their crops and to redistribute power in their households.

“When our leaders told us that Oxfam was coming to train us to use oxen to plow our fields, we protested,” says Lucia, a farmer from Wau County, South Sudan. “Our tribe does not know cows and even so, it is a man’s work to train them and lead them through the fields. This is not for us women at all!”

Yet, 12 months later, she’s changed her tune. Lucia grins from ear to ear as she shows off Malual—the young bull that tills her land. Women in Lucia’s community—as in most parts of South Sudan—typically shoulder a huge workload. They do all the domestic work and much of the agricultural tasks. For many, this means waking up early to collect water, light a fire, make tea, and cook lunch, all before heading to a small plot of land to cultivate crops.

Farming often takes from morning to evening, and even then, doesn't always provide enough food to feed the family. This was Lucia’s experience until last year.

That’s where Malual come in.

Traditionally, people in Lucia's community use malodas—small tools with a sickle-shaped head—to till the land, but because the tools are so small, it takes a long time to work the land. Using oxen and employing techniques like planting in rows means women can cultivate much larger plots of land in less time.

“I am growing sorghum, okra, and peanuts, and I have been able to increase the size of the land I plow from half a fedan [half an acre] to more than two fedans [two acres],” she says. “Some of the food I eat as soon as I harvest; some I save for the lean season to eat or to sell. I’m also saving some for planting later this year.”

In the past, Lucia and her family skipped lunch because they only had enough food to stretch between breakfast and dinner. “My children are much happier and I can see they are looking well,” she says.

Lucia is earning enough money to pay some bills, and the time she's saved using oxen is going into a side business selling cakes—all of which has earned her the deep respect of her husband.

As part of the same project, she and her husband took part in workshops focused on women’s rights. “Now he respects me so much more,” she says with a grin. “The way we are together is completely different. Now we share all the tasks in the household. He is cleaning more, mopping, bringing water, and washing clothes. I am able to rest a bit more now.”

In South Sudan, Oxfam races the rains to save lives

By Tim Bierley

In the middle of war, even the simple solutions to staying healthy can feel impossible, but education and resources at the community level are saving lives every day.

Nyawal is a community heath volunteer, helping to educate her community about the importance of keeping their community clean, using clean water and practicing good sanitation to avoid diseases like cholera and diarrhea. Right now, Oxfam and volunteers like Nyawal are racing to educate and provide resources before the rainy season starts. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam
 
You can do many simple things to keep control of cholera and diarrhoea, explains Yoal, an Oxfam health volunteer in Pading, South Sudan. But it gets more complicated when your town’s water pumps break down and people are forced to drink swamp water; when animals drink and defecate in the same water sources; when there are no toilets; when you only have one container for bathing, collecting water and washing clothes and dishes; when conflict cuts off your town from almost all trade and the price of soap is more than many people earn in a week; when sick people must walk 30 miles through blistering heat to reach the nearest hospital.

“It is hard for people to keep healthy here,” Yoal sighs. “In 2017, we had so many cases of cholera and diarrhoea. We lost 27 people.”

Yoal, an Oxfam community health volunteer, teaches the importance of keeping water containers clean in Lankien. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam
 
Yoal’s home town of Pading is a small cluster of pointy-topped huts in Nyirol County in the northeast of South Sudan. It is extremely remote – surrounded by huge stretches of almost completely flat land, compressed into uniformity by the swamps which swell in the wet season between May and October. The swamps make delivering aid to places like Pading extremely difficult and they also increase the risk of cholera, as the expanding waters soak and mix up everything in their path.

Soon, those rains will thunder down on Pading again. With lives at stake, Oxfam is racing to make sure communities like this one are prepared with the means to fight off another outbreak during the wet season.

Oxfam and local leaders respond ahead of the rains

Last month, engineers from our mobile emergency response team repaired the town’s two water pumps, so Pading will have clean water this year. Now we’re working with volunteers like Yoal to teach people practical ways to keep disease at bay, as well as handing out supplies like water buckets, containers for bathing, soap and drinking cups.

The key to surviving in extremely risky situations like this, Yoal says, is being completely thorough.

“Sometimes, everyone within the family has to rely on the same containers for lots of different uses,” he says. “You have to be extremely careful about how you use your resources.”

He explains that as the war has dragged on, people have grown increasingly tired. They have seen friends and family die unnecessary deaths. It can be hard to persuade people that it’s possible to stop the slide, when it is clear the conflict is forcing people into ever worsening positions.

“You have to give really practical support like telling people that even if they cannot afford soap for washing, they can use ash. They should boil water if they are drinking it from the swamp. We explain exactly how each thing can affect them.”

Children are the common denominator

Convincing people that change is possible is not still not always easy, but Yoal says there is one thing that unites everyone: “It’s when people see the impact on their children’s health that they are really affected by what I say. Everyone just wants to keep their family safe.”

Nyawal, who volunteers for Oxfam in Lankien, a town nine hours walk from Pading, knows too well the impact cholera can have on a family. She lost two children to the disease last year. Like so many mothers in South Sudan, she felt that their lives were almost out of her control.

Nyawal, smiling with one of her children whose health has improved, is an Oxfam volunteer in Lankien helping with water and sanitation work. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

“I have always kept things clean and done everything I can to look after my family,” she says, but adds that people across the community do not realise the constant level of vigilance needed to prevent the spread of cholera.

Cholera can spread extremely quickly and through the most innocuous-seeming sources. Nyawal says she always knew that you should wave flies away from your food, for example. It’s instinctive. But she hadn’t seen it as a life and death matter. She doesn’t know what it was that caused her children to fall to cholera, but she wants to make sure her neighbours don’t suffer the same fate.

“As someone who went through this experience I have to keep telling people to take care of themselves and their children – how to help stop these diseases. We’ve brought tools, including rakes and pangas to help people clean up the areas around their houses and we’re telling them how to ensure their food is safe.”

Clean water isn't always an option in a warzone

Just as it is impossible to keep every fly from infecting food, sometimes the conflict takes health completely out of people’s control. Just outside Lankien, William a village elder tells how fighting in the area forced him and his community to flee deep into the bush, fearing attacks on civilians. The priority was to hide, so it was not possible for people to use functioning boreholes in the area: most were close to the road and therefore considered to be too exposed.

Yoal and his family were forced to flee violence and were too afraid to seek out clean water or boil water where they were hiding. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

“During this time, we had to drink swamp water,” he says. “It was hot and dirty.”

He and his family could not even treat the water by boiling it, as demonstrated by Oxfam’s health volunteers, for fear that the smoke would give away their position, and almost inevitably disease spread.

“A lot of us got sick at this time,” says William. “People lost their lives.”

In a country at conflict, it is extremely hard for communities to eradicate the risk of disease completely. It makes a huge difference to have access to clean water and to the utensils needed to be thorough in hygiene practices, but simple bad luck is also an inevitable factor. The awful fortune of being surrounded by chattering guns is compounded by the resulting destruction of water sources, of trade, of whole ways of life. People continue to be forced from their homes, their routines, and their means of looking after themselves.

As long as this keeps going, thousands of people will continue to suffer from entirely preventable diseases. Oxfam will continue to help people access clean water, maintain their dignity and keep their communities alive. That is something we can at least control.

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