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Nyankeich was determined to leave South Sudan — but then something changed her mind

A woman's battle and eventual triumph after returning to her country
, Tomson Phiri
Nyankeich Wieu shows freshly harvested sorghum which she grew on the family farm. Sorghum is a popular staple throughout South Sudan. Photo: WFP/Anna Soper

On the outskirts of Aweil town, some 876 km north-west of South Sudan's restive capital, Juba, nestled in the hinterland is the small village of Kuom. The place resembles an island of peace, allowing development partners to support longer-term work to improve communities' self-sufficiency and food security in areas not directly affected by the conflict. This is the story of how a widowed returnee received help from a UK-aid funded project, allowing her to take the first steps out of the hunger trap.

Tough times

Nyankeich Wieu returned to South Sudan in 2016, having been a refugee in Khartoum, Sudan, for several years. Just four months after her return, her husband passed away, leaving her as the sole provider for their five young children.

"After my return to South Sudan, life was difficult — I tried to work as a casual labourer in my neighbours' homes, but even getting this type of work was difficult," explains Nyankeich Wieu. "I decided to go and tell the chief of my [village] that my life was unbearable as a returnee and that [I preferred] to go back to Sudan to be a refugee again."

But with a little help from her community, Nyankeich remained in Kuom and does not regret the decision.

"When the project came I was selected as one of the beneficiaries and I was allocated [some land] and we received seeds," she explains. With farming tools and some training in agriculture, Nyankeich is now growing her own food.

Nyankeich stands tall in front of her sorghum field. She says the skills and cash she received changed her life. Photo: WFP/Anna Soper

How it works

Nyankeich is just one of more than 16,000 farmers in the country who are benefiting under the second phase of the project Building Resilience through Asset Creation and Enhancement (BRACE II), jointly implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and cooperating partners such as Joint Aid Management, with financial support from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID). Famers are taught to grow their own food so that they can better support themselves over time, while receiving cash to meet their immediate food needs for the time they are enrolled on the project.

Nyankeich's luck

Partners sat with community members in Kuom to identify the most vulnerable households in the community. Priority was given to women-headed households such as Nyankeich's, households with no one gainfully employed, families with members living with disabilities or taking care of malnourished children.

Farmers established a demonstration plot to allow them to learn new farming techniques such as row planting, crop spacing and intercropping. Nyankeich says that she learned new ways to plant that have helped increase her yields.

Nyankeich harvesting sorghum in one of the family farms that support her and five children. Photo: WFP/Anna Soper

"I am thankful to the people and the government of the United Kingdom — our thanks is really to all of them. We have survived the severe hunger period." says Nyankeich, referring to the lean hunger months between May and July last year — the hiatus between food depletion and new harvests.

Read more about WFP's work in South Sudan.

— Story by Anna Soper, with additional reporting by Tomson Phiri.