Ciara Jordan in South Sudan: 'After her husband was killed, heavily-pregnant Aweuk walked eight days to get her family to safety'
THE unsettling feeling of loss and not having a place to call home is just as heartbreaking for an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), as it is for a refugee.
There is still grief for what was left behind. A feeling of helplessness. Today is World Refugee Day. It is also a day on which IDPs should not be forgotten.
"I have nothing. When my village was attacked, I left with the clothes on my back and my four children,” Aweuk told me outside her small, thatched hut that was assigned to her in an IDP camp in Melut in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.
She ran from her home in Rom, a small town three hours to the south, when it was attacked in May, 2015.
“They came from the river and started shooting. I took my children and ran with the rest of the women to hide in the bush. The men stayed behind to fight.”
In the 10 days from May 15th to the 24th, the stretch of land between the strategic city of Malakal and the oil fields of Paloich was the site of fierce fighting between government troops and forces loyal to defected General, Johnson Olony, a South Sudanese militia leader. The aftermath was devastating. Much of Melut and Akoka County - including Aweuk’s town, Rom - was destroyed, burnt, and looted.
Aweuk’s husband was one of the men who stayed and fought to protect their village. He was shot and killed by the attackers.
At the time, Aweuk was pregnant. Her husband never met his son, who is just about to turn one.
“After the attack, we had to leave our home. We brought nothing with us. It took us (Aweuk, her four children and her mother-in-law) eight days to walk from Rom to Melut. The journey was very difficult because I was heavily pregnant and none of us had any shoes.”
Aweuk has been living in this IDP camp for just over a year. While she is grateful to be safe, she says it doesn’t feel like home. She lives in a cramped space on a small plastic mat with her children and her mother-in-law. She has only basics to survive.
“I miss beds, clean clothes for my children and cooking utensils for preparing food. Everyday items, really. We came with nothing and I can’t work because my husband is dead.
“My children are suffering and missing their childhood.”
Childhood is a luxury few experience in an IDP camp.
Approximately 50,000 civilians fled the May attacks, including tens of thousands of IDPs who had already been forced away from home by violence. Over 35,000 remain displaced today across three IDP camps in Melut County, including Koradar, Aweuk’s camp.
Aweuk understands many have a similar story to hers.
“There are others suffering all around me in this camp. I am not the only one. I know this.”
“I hope there is peace in my village soon so I can return. It will be different now that my husband is dead.
“Survival will still be hard there, but at least it is home.”
GOAL has been operating in the former southern Sudan since 1985. In the Koradar camp, GOAL operates a health and nutrition clinic, as well as a water and hygiene programme. The charity also operates water and hygiene and food security programmes in other locations in Upper Nile State, in Warrap State, and in the Abyei Administrative Area.
To find out more about GOAL’s work in South Sudan, visit goalglobal.org