No other choice

  • Women in South Sudan have the great responsibility to give birth in hard conditions and raise families with little resources.
  • Txata Male, a mother of three children, breastfeeds her newborn baby Talata (4 days old) outside her shelter in Dangaji, a village in Maban, South Sudan. © Albert González Farran

    Txata is a mother of three children. She gave birth few days ago in Dangaji, a very remote village in Maban county, in South Sudan, where health services are really limited.
    She lives with a disability in her right side of the body, but she keeps sustaining her family as best as she can. Her husband is away most of the time, and she is the only one to provide food, water and shelter to her children and her elder mother.
    Life of women and mothers in South Sudan, as in many countries in Africa, is greatly tough. They assume the hardest work, even in their late pregnancies or when they need to look after newborn babies. There are no other choices. Lives are under their responsibility. And this is something totally hard to assume. Too hard.

    According to WHO, South Sudan has one of the highest rates of maternal and neonatal mortality in the world, apart from the shocking rate of under-five mortality (10%).

    Licence to kill for 25 dollars

  • Cheap guns and expensive cows: an explosive combination in South Sudan.
  • A young cattle keeper holds a machine-gun at his camp in Rumbek, South Sudan. © Albert González Farran.

    In South Sudan’s cattle camps, there are two very important possessions: the first one are, obviously, the cows, which are very appreciated because they enhance social prestige, and because are being used as currency of commercial transactions and marriage arrangements; the second one are the weapons, “indispensable” tools to defend against those who want to steal the cattle.
    South Sudan is one of the countries in Africa with more arms. A very high rate of civilians has a rifle at home, either for cultural reasons or for safety. A Russian-made machine-gun, an AK-47, “only” costs $25 in the black market. It’s a “fair” price to defend the ownership of the cows, which can cost 10 times more.
    After years of war, the arms culture is so ingrained in the country that cattle keepers, especially the youth, realize that apart from protecting their cows, with a machine-gun on their hands they can easily steal, rape, loot or kill. And this is already happening…

    Gleaners in South Sudan

  • Hunger makes many South Sudanese people put on their knees to collect the last crumb of food.
  • A woman collects grains of sorghum left on the ground after a food distribution in Ganyiel, South Sudan. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran – AFP.

    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.
  • Nine of the fifteen children living at Julie’s house play with a teddy bear. Photo by Albert González Farran – UNICEF

    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?
    16 November 2016. Aweil: Medair staff member, William Deng (18), is pictured at home after a day work at the the feeding centre (outpatient therapeutic programming) run by Medair in Aweil, South Sudan. Alarming levels of malnutrition and a severe malaria outbreak are putting thousands of lives at risks in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan. A full-scale emergency response has been launched by the humanitarian community. Medair, an international emergency relief and recovery organisation, is part of this response and is providing emergency nutrition and health services, safe water, and sanitation and hygiene support. The emergency levels of malnutrition are compounded by a malaria upsurge in the past weeks and the limited access to water and sanitation facilities. The prevalence of malaria cases in the area has increased by 400 percent in nine weeks’ time. The limited availability of essential drugs and the small number of staff in health facilities have made it very difficult for people to receive adequate treatment in time unless they have enough money to pay. Medair’s emergency response team is providing critical services to the most vulnerable in the area. In the past weeks, the team has set up three emergency nutrition clinics to treat children under five with acute malnutrition and is aiming to establish four additional sites. The team is also providing emergency water, sanitation, and hygiene services and has opened a malaria treatment centre in Aweil town. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran - MEDAIR

    William Deng, a young boy at his hut in Aweil, South Sudan. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran – Medair.

    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.

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