Forced from home – Eliza's journey to safety in South Sudan
Written by: Stella Madete, Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), Information Officer, Somalia
Eliza is a chef and mother of four. She worked with Oxfam in Melut state, Upper Nile, from 2014 until Oxfam completed the program in 2015. Eliza was forced leave her home, friends and family members in Melut when the fighting drew too close.
When I heard that Malakal had been taken, I knew something was wrong. People were saying that that the troops were advancing. Many people had left the area, and more were planning to do the same. That is when I knew we had to leave.
I told my elder brother that the fighting is coming to us, and we have to go. He said that he would rather stay and monitor the situation. I tried to tell him that it’s not safe to stay, but he did not change his mind. He said that I should take his children and go, and that everything would be all right. My sister and I rented a pick-up truck, fit everyone we could in it, and left for Paloich on 29th April.
When we arrived at the airport, it was not very full. There were women and their children in the airport waiting for a plane to take them to Juba. Some had been waiting for a week, some for two days. We registered ourselves for the next flight and lucky enough, we didn’t have to wait for long. There was a cargo plane leaving in a few hours. We my sister and I paid 300 ssp ($31) each for the flight. We did not have to pay for the children.
We left Paloich on 29th April. The next day, the town was taken over.
When we arrived in Juba, we went to church and met more people who had left Paloich. They said that the airport was full when they left. Everyone was leaving. It was there that I learned that my brother had been killed in the fighting. If he had left with us, he would still be alive.
It was at this point, my niece, Fardhouse, a young 17-year-old girl, fell apart. When the conflict broke out in December 2013, she was just about to start her secondary school studies. Instead she fled with her family to Renk, and then joined us in Melut. She has not been able to continue her studies since then. When she heard that my brother had died, her mental state declined. She has been talking to herself, shouting, not speaking to anyone. The war has broken her. We took her to Juba teaching hospital and they are taking care of her. All the money we carried with us, to help us survive in Juba, we’re now using to make sure Fardhouse is taken care of.
When we arrived in Juba, we stayed with my sister in law but we could only burden her for long. Her house was already full of relatives who had also run from the fighting in Melut. I could not ask her to take care of everyone. I knew that she could not. I decided that it was time to find somewhere else to stay.
I didn’t know where to go. I thought I was out of options but fortunately, the church provided me with one. They were constructing hostels for students but could not continue because of the conflict and economic crisis. They have allowed us to stay in the incomplete house until we can find somewhere else to go. It’s not what I want, but it is a roof over our heads.
After paying for the truck, the flight, medical bills, and buying food, the little money we had was finished. We had nothing. My sister had to sell her necklace for us to survive.
My mother gave it to her just before she died and it was painful for her to let it go. She had carried this necklace with her from Renk, to Rumbek, hiding it in her suitcase, protecting it. Now she was forced to sell it.
I am the eldest daughter, and a widow. The responsibility of my family and my children is all on my shoulders. My brother used to help, but the war took him. I am looking for work so that I can have some stability and send my children to school. The more time they spend out of school, the further they are left behind. I need them to get an education so that they can have a successful life, a life easier than mine, so that they don’t suffer.
I don’t know how long this money will keep us. Things are very expensive in Juba. Food is sold in small quantities, and it costs almost three times the price in Melut. Most of the time I don’t know where the next meal will come from.
I feel overwhelmed. I am trying to balance so many things in my mind – my family, my children, where to get money and food, how to get my children into a good school. At the same time, I am worried about the many people we left behind – our relatives and friends. Are they alright?
All I want is for the fighting to stop; it is not a solution to anything. Peace needs to be restored.
I know I’m not alone, and I want everyone else in a position similar to mine to be strong, and most importantly, to be patient. There is a time for everything. Now we’re going through a time of sorrow because of the war. Soon the time will come for joy, because there will be peace.
Over 2 million people like Eliza have been forced from their homes, including over 100,000 who have sought UN protection and are living in UN bases across the country. Many are missing meals, selling their belongings for food and in some cases resorting to extreme measures to survive. By the end of July, 40% of South Sudan’s total population will be severely food insecure.
Governments can make a difference by committing urgent funding for emergency needs to save thousands of lives and prevent further suffering for millions of South Sudanese.