Gleaners in South Sudan
Hunger makes many South Sudanese people put on their knees to collect the last crumb of food.
Some years ago I watched the documentary The Gleaners and I, by Agnès Varda, a film that I always keep in mind. It features all those people who collect what others throw away. From the moment I saw this movie, I have come across gleaners everywhere I travelled, but never as many as in South Sudan. Here, the last crumb has a value that in other places is not even considered. Empty plastic bottles, puddles, bags, old newspapers and above all, in places where humanitarian organizations distribute food, there is always a group of gleaners who pick up sorghum grains that have been left on the ground. For some people it may look below the human dignity, but it’s definitely a lesson of making the most of others’ waste.
Fifteen children at home
The arrival of many displaced people in Yambio made Julie live in a real nursery.
Yambio, a town of 40,000 residents at the western border of South Sudan with DRC, is experiencing an unprecedented displacement. In the past months, indiscriminate attacks by armed groups in the rural area have forced hundreds of families flee to the city. They found accommodation in houses of relatives, friends, colleagues or even charitable souls who open their doors.
Julie Adriano, a single mother of two children, lives in a nearly unbearable situation. Julie received some relatives who fled from Gitikiri village, but she also fostered two other children who lost their parents during the escape. Five adults take care of 15 children who flutter around the house. Her house has became a real nursery.
The increase of water consumption, the shortage of food and the lack of soap and clothes are some of the main challenges that households are currently facing in Yambio.
What do you do?
This is the conversation I had yesterday with William Deng, an 18-year-old humanitarian worker who lives in a small hut with his family on the outskirts of Aweil, South Sudan:
– What do you do when you finish work?
– I collect firewood with my father.
– Yes. OK. But what do you do in your spare time?
– I’m at home.
– Fine, but what do you do at home?
– I mean if you do something, like reading…
– Ah! I understand. No. I don’t read. I don’t have books.
– Writing, listening to the radio, playing cards?
– I have no paper, no radio, no cards…
– So what do you do in your spare time?
– I’m at home.
A few years ago, an experienced aid worker who lives in Ethiopia told me the word “boredom” does not even exist in many local African languages. Perhaps the word was invented by those companies that sell books, paper, radios and cards and want to convince us we need them to avoid boredom. But William didn’t seem bored to me.
This can’t be true
A UN investigation reports a network from Eastern Europe and the Middle East providing arms to South Sudan
“Can’t this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages”. This was said by a Jewish boy to his father during the Nazi’s extermination and written by the Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel in his amazing novel Night. It was published in the 50s, but the sentence is still valid in many current contexts. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and South Sudan have ashamed many of us who realise that mankind is still acting as apemen.
But it’s not totally true. Wars, genocides and holocausts are more elaborated than we think. Those who kill and torture in many countries, mostly in Africa, are supported by big networks of businessmen from Europe, America and Middle East who are making huge fortunes. A recent UN investigation details that since 2014, companies from Bulgaria or Israel have been selling weapons to South Sudan, one of the countries with the biggest rate of arms among the population and suffering a bloody civil war for the past three years.
It reminds me a lot the documentary film We come as friends, by Hubert Sauper, that explains very well the hypocrisy of the western world that thinks it can lecture African countries while fuelling disasters to get good profits.
A broke middle class
The middle class in South Sudan is not only disappearing. It’s being ruined.
Latest investigation by The Sentry reported that many political leaders in South Sudan “hid” in recent years billions of dollars from the international aid and now, with no shame, they show luxury houses overseas, millionaires bank accounts and leisure trips in first class and five star hotels.
Meanwhile, the country is suffering one of the toughest humanitarian crisis in the planet. With an inflation that already exceeds 800%, five million people in urgent need of food and 2.5 million displaced and refugees because of an endless civil war, the country is in total collapse.
The saddest part is that the middle-class citizens, those who have stable and important jobs and are supposed to put the country back on track, are not only disappearing, but are also being ruined. Doctors, teachers, civil servants and businessmen have so ridiculous salaries that can’t cover medical expenses or pay drinking water for their families.
Betty, who is working in a hospital in Juba for 24 years, has now a devalued salary of $ 10 a month, which she didn’t received for the last four months due to the ministry bankrupt. Moses, who runs a fruit stand in the city, has sent his family to Uganda as refugees to ensure their meals; and Tabitha, a university lecturer with a “high” salary of nearly $ 200 a month, prays that her children don’t get sick and endanger the family economy.
The poor class is increasing in the world’s youngest country and there won’t be a way back.