The dream of independence in the new country of South Sudan was shattered with the outbreak of fierce fighting in mid-December 2013. Tens of thousands of people fled to safety in neighbouring countries, particularly Uganda. WFP is providing food for the newly arriving refugees – people like Nyanwuor, a pregnant woman with three young children who tells her story below.
DZAIPI, UGANDA - “I remember Independence Day, when the flag for our nation was raised in Juba,” says Nyanwuor Lam, a mother to three young children. “I thought to myself ‘now we can cultivate our own land and no one can chase us away. There will be no more fighting, no one can die again’. I felt peace and assurance.”
Just over two years later this feeling of peace was replaced with terror as Nyanwuor fled her home in the town of Bor, which has been the scene of intense fighting since the crisis began in December 2013.
“I left with nothing, I just ran to save my life,” she said. “There was lots of shooting and people lying dead in the streets. I was so scared.”
Separated from sons
Nyanwuor escaped to the river with her daughter, 2-year-old Akwol, but got separated from her two sons, aged 6 and 8, in the panic.
“I hid by the river for eight days, searching for them, thinking they could be alive and not knowing where to find me.”
For those eight days Nyamwuor, who was 7 months pregnant, only had water from the river.
“I was so hungry and weak I couldn’t even walk -- I had to be carried on to the boat,” she said. “I remember people were fighting to get on board, and when we were crossing, the soldiers were shooting at us. Some people fell overboard, others were lying dead or injured in the bottom of the boat.”
Thinking that she could wait for her boys in safety on the other side of the river, Nyanmwor was forced to once again escape as the fighting intensified. Boarding a commercial food truck, she made it to Juba, where her husband was staying. But her journey was not yet over.
“My phone battery was dead, so I didn’t know how to find him and I didn’t know anyone else in Juba,” Nyanwuor said
Her daughter Akwol, by now, was very weak, having only had a few biscuits and a bit of porridge in the two weeks that had passed.
“She couldn’t walk, she just cried until she was given some food,” she said.
Alone in a strange city, Nyanwuor felt her only option was to continue toward the refugee camps in Uganda. She crossed the border at Elegu, where she was transferred to Dzaipi transit centre on the 7th of January.
There, at last, she and her daughter found safety, along with daily hot meals provided by WFP and its partners.
‘My neighbours died’
Four weeks later, Nyanwuor still had not been reunited with her sons.
“After all this time they are not here. Just like the ones who are dead,” she said. “I feel stronger now that I have some food, but all I can do is stay here and wait for news and rely on God to decide to bring them back.”
Although a shaky cessation-of-hostilities agreement took effect in January and the situation in Bor has stabilized somewhat, Nyanwuor has little hope of returning home.
“I hear the stories from there,” Nyanwuor says quietly. “How my neighbours have died, and that my house has been burnt and all my things destroyed. I have no hope of returning to Bor, I have nothing to go back to. And the rebels could come back again. I don’t ever want to have to run again.”
So for now, at least, she will remain in Uganda, where she has the nutrition she needs, and a safe place to have her baby.
Story by Tine Frank