In December 2013, the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan created news headlines around the world. As the conflict dragged on, and newer stories emerged, the story of what is happening in South Sudan disappeared. The crisis may have slipped off global news agency agendas, but to JAM and our team who worked in the country since 2001, the crisis is very real. This World Hunger Day, we would like to tell you the story of Gabriel Thiak and his family, who live outside the support of JAM and other partner NGOs in a village destroyed by the conflict.
“This is where we sleep now,” says single parent, Gabriel Thiak, as he points to a patch of cleared and burnt ground under a large tree. At night, he, his ailing
mother and two children set up a makeshift tent, which is just a few branches with a piece of scavenged tarpaulin filled with holes. The crude tent offers minimal protection against the elements, but with the torrential rainy season on the horizon he is not sure how they will survive.
In 2014, when the civil war reached the town of Bor and its outlying villages, he and his family fled across the Nile River. They would live for weeks in the reed islands, which are several hundred meters from his village. His late wife was able to find food for them, but she would not eat anything herself. Gradually, she became weaker until she died; one of the estimated 10, 000 people to have died since the beginning of the war in 2013.
When Gabriel and his family returned to their village, he discovered his home was gone. Burned to the ground and his cattle gone, he broke down and cried. Today, he tries to find food for his family, but as an old man himself and with three mouths to feed he feels he is unable to cope and provide for his family. His daughter, Nyagut has taken it upon herself to climb trees to pick an acorn-sized fruit to help feed the family. The fruit has become a staple food item for many South Sudanese even if it provides little nutritional value. “Once we eat the fruit, we get very thirsty, and we then drink water to fill our stomachs, so we don’t we feel so hungry,” explains Gabriel, as he watches his daughter gingerly climb through the branches 5 meters above his head.
JAM’s team met Gabriel in 2015; his story is different to the many we encounter each day in South Sudan. Often, we find women alone widowed after their husbands have been killed trying to protect their families. Gabriel is an exception, he is trying to his best, but alone, and with little skills in farming, no cattle or support, he is not sure what the future will bring except daily hunger. This World Hunger Day, we ask you to
think of the children and families we support every day in Africa, but especially those in South Sudan who have very little hope.