Peace is rapidly turning into a distant memory for many in South Sudan, and women and girls continue to bear the brunt of close to a year of conflict and humanitarian crisis. Women in South Sudan are strong and determined, they are the backbone of the country, yet they continue to be victims of unacceptable suffering and oppression. South Sudanese women offer hope for a better country and we can do more to make a difference to their lives.
To mark this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, CARE International in South Sudan is asking you to reflect on the statement ‘I am a woman in South Sudan.’
Here is a sample of reflections of men and women in South Sudan on who a South Sudanese woman is.
As today marks the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, CARE’s Johanna Mitscherlich reflects on meeting Marwa, a young Syrian woman whose family was forced to flee from Syria to Egypt almost two years ago.
by Johanna Mitscherlich, Emergency Communications Coordinator, CARE International
While Marwa listens to the trainer during one of CARE’s sports activities she seems to be soaking up everything she hears and sees. At first glance Marwa appears to be younger than her 19 years. But hearing her speak and looking into her fierce blue eyes, her sophistication, brightness and curiosity leave you wondering what made this young woman mature so quickly.
In the basement of a local aid organisation in the city of Oboor, about an hour drive from Cairo, she shares her story and concerns with other young people.
‘I often feel like people here do not understand me. They see a young, happy girl. They ask me “What are you doing here? Syria was a rich country in comparison to Egypt – why could you not stay?” I want to tell them about the war and tell them that we have lost everything. But a lot of times I am either too angry or too tired to say anything.’
‘I have counted every single day since my brother was arrested’
The others nod their heads. They know what Marwa is talking about. They come from Damascus, Aleppo and Homs, from cities and from the country side. They were students in universities and worked in factories. They have different histories, but now all share the same fate. They had to flee their homes in Syria and have sought refuge in Egypt.
Marwa fled to Egypt with her mother, her sister and her younger brother a year and eight months ago.
‘I have counted every single day,’ she says. ‘This is exactly how long I have not seen my big brother.’
They wanted to flee together, as a family. But the day they were supposed to leave her 20-year old brother was arrested.
‘He was the most talented person I knew. He studied architecture at the university in Damascus. I truly believe that he would have built houses like no one has ever seen before.’
Marwa’s fierce blue eyes fill up with tears. Her father stayed in Syria, trying to get her brother out of prison. After six months, he gave up and joined the family in Egypt. They have not heard from her brother ever since.
‘No one can see how angry I actually am,’ says Marwa. ‘I am angry that my precious teenage years were taken from me, that I cannot continue my studies, that I have lost my home and my friends.’
Marwa apologises and says she is ashamed that she is so angry.
‘People die every day. They lose their homes. Millions of my fellow Syrians need help. Some even have to eat dirt to survive,’ a frown line appears on her forehead. ‘I know that there are people whose situation is worse, but I cannot help but feeling angry. I always wanted to study pharmacy, like my mother, but now I cannot afford it and the education system here is different.’
‘Our house looked like a cake someone had sat on’
She explains that she has always been one of the top students in her school, had private English lessons and her parents owned a big house and several companies. In Egypt, her parents cannot work. They have applied for a work permit, but even a year after their arrival their applications have not been processed. Now, they have to rely on food vouchers from the UN and help from others.
‘I saw our house on Facebook. I would not have recognised it if it was not for the street and buildings next to it. It looked like a cake someone had sat on.’
But Marwa does not want to give up; she does not want her life and her heart and soul to suffer. She is attending CARE’s recreational and psychosocial sessions in Oboor. Together with other young men and women she has decided to walk the long way to recovery – step by step.
‘I am still so young. I have my entire life ahead of me. I want to be strong to become someone great,’ says Marwa.
In regular sports activities the young adults get together and learn through games how they can better cooperate, preserve space for themselves and how to practice non-violent behaviour. Violence and how to address it is the recurrent theme of the sessions.
For Marwa, CARE’s psychosocial and recreational activities have become very important.
‘I am so glad that I have found new friends. This has really helped me to learn about how we can communicate with each other. The war in Syria made me forget how much friends can help you, and that even in your darkest hour there might be a solution waiting for you. I have learnt how to deal with all kinds of people and feel happiness again.’
In celebration of Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, more than 90 Syrian children living in Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan participated in CARE’s competition ‘My Dream for Syria’. They submitted their own stories and paintings about their suggestions, observations and dreams for the future of their home country and about their own experiences of flight.
A jury comprising Bernadette Castel-Hollingsworth, Azraq Camp Manager (UNHCR); the Syrian band Shadi&Firas; 16-year-old Muzoon, camp magazine member and girls’ rights activist; and Salam Kanaan, Country Director CARE Jordan, had the difficult task of choosing the 10 finalists below in two age categories (11–15 years and 15–20 years).
The three final winners will be awarded during a celebration of Universal Children’s day in Azraq Camp.
Age group 11–15
Seadra, 12: ‘I want to see this beautiful view again’
Seadra and her family fled Daraa six months ago and came to Azraq camp. ‘I wanted to participate because I felt like my life here is dull. I wanted to do something interesting,’ says Seadra. ‘I drew myself at a waterfall and made sure to use bright colours for my painting to show how beautiful Syria is. I want to see this beautiful view again. It shows spring seasons, when trees grow green, plants, flowers and fruits blossom and grow. Drawing is my hobby and seeing beautiful nature relaxes my heart and makes me happy.’ Seadra also wants to contribute to rebuilding her homeland when she returns. ‘I want to help rebuild our house in Daraa, then help my grandparents rebuild their house because they are old and need help.’
Salam, 11: ‘Syria is like a lit candle that will never turn off’
Salam and her family fled Homs to Jordan three months ago. They have been living in Azraq camp ever since. ‘I drew a candle because it resembles hope and the brightness of the future. Syria is like a lit candle that will never turn off, no matter how difficult the situation is now,’ says Salam. ‘I want to have a cause, to help people become stronger.’ Salam is ambitious and has big dreams for her future. ‘I want to finish school and study fine arts in university to become a famous artist. I want to paint beautiful flowers and colourful nature.’
Yusra, 13: ‘We children love peace’
Yusra left Syria 18 months ago and fled to Jordan. She has been in Azraq camp for the last six months. ‘I wanted to show people my talent,’ says Yusra. ‘My drawing shows a dove that is flying from Syria to Jordan. The dove and the olive tree represent peace. UNHCR and CARE support and give us peace. We children love peace, we adore peace and we want to support peace.’ Yusra loves school and studying. ‘I want to keep studying. I want to reach as high in my studies as one can possibly reach.’
Alaa’, 13: ‘What matters the most to me is to read and write’
Alaa’ and her family fled the bombings in Hamaa two months ago and came to Azraq camp in Jordan. Alaa’ had to accompany her sick mother to a hospital outside the camp yesterday. ‘I am volunteering with CARE so Alaa’ was encouraged to participate in the competition because CARE organised it,’ says Suleiman, Alaa’s father. Alaa painted a ‘school for excellent students’. She says: ‘What matters the most to me is to read and write. I love my school, I love my mother and my father.’ Alaa’ is one of the top students at school. She wants to become a psychiatrist when she grows up to help Syrians overcome the trauma caused by the war.
Abdul Hadi, 11: ‘I want to be a carpenter and rebuild people’s houses’
Abdul Hadi and his family arrived in Azraq camp the day that the camp opened. ‘I wanted to participate because my friends participated,’ says Abdul Hadi. “I wanted to compete with my friends and win.’ Abdul Hadi wants to have a profession to help reconstruct Syria when he goes back. ‘My eldest brother is a carpenter, and I also wish to be a carpenter when I grow up. I want to help people rebuild their houses.’ He painted a boat to remember his grandfather, who was a fisher and owned a boat. ‘We need to remember where we come from.’
Age group 15–20
Abdullateef, 16: ‘We want a peaceful, safe and happy Syria’
Abdullatif fled Raqqa in Syria four months ago. Fighting escalated in his neighbourhood and his family was not safe anymore. ‘I participated in the contest because I wanted to tell the world that we want a peaceful, safe and happy Syria,’ says Abdullatif. ‘I wish Syria returns to peace. And I wish to go back and contribute to rebuilding our homeland.’
Moahmmed Ali, 17: ‘I wish that Syria can start over again’
Mohammed fled the heavy bombings in Aleppo to Jordan three months ago and has been living in Azraq camp ever since. Drawing is one of Mohammed’s favourite hobbies and that is why he participated in the contest. ‘The dove resembles peace, and the green olive branch represents the hope to return to Syria after the war ends,’ says Mohammed. ‘I wish that the war ends soon. And I wish for us to return, open a new chapter and start over, build a peaceful, beautiful country without hatred.’
Malaz, 15: ‘I want to tell others about Syria’s beauty’
Malaz and his family were some of the first people to reside in Azraq camp around six months ago, when the camp had just opened. ‘I wanted to compete with other boys and girls and win a prize,’ says Malaz. ‘I also wanted to tell others about the beauty of Syria and express my thoughts through writing.’ Malaz had to leave school and stay at home for a year before fleeing from Damascus to Jordan. His parents were afraid that something could happen to him on his way to school. ‘My wish for the future is to become a professional football player.’
Iyad, 15: ‘My home country Syria is like a rose and every Syrian city is a petal of this rose’
Iyad and his family fled Homs six months ago when the fighting escalated and many people were arrested. They came to Azraq camp in Jordan. ‘The rose resembles how I feel and think about Syria. My country Syria is like a rose and every Syrian city is a petal of this rose,’ says Iyad. ‘I painted this rose because I want Syria to flourish and blossom again. I want every city to become lively and happy again; the streets, the markets, everything.’ Iyad dreams of becoming an international football star one day.
Dia’a, 16: “I always want to remember”
Dia’a fled to Jordan twice. The first time he and his family went back to Syria so that he could finish his school year. ‘I finished my exams and got my results. I gained 96 per cent in the 10th grade! Then we fled to Azraq,’ says Dia’a. ‘Life makes you face a lot of difficult experiences. Sometimes my heart feels has if someone would have put it into a freezer. You are so sad that you cannot feel anything but sadness anymore. This is why I wanted to channel my sadness through writing. I never want to forget, I always want to remember.’ Dia’a wishes to become an engineer when he finishes his studies. But this is not his only dream. ‘I have a dream of having many different drawings, from different people of different ages and backgrounds. Then I want to add captions to them, and print them all out in one book. I want to title it “Beauty in Simplicity”.’
Today, as we celebrate World Toilet Day, many Syrian refugees struggle with harsh water and sanitation conditions, especially with the weather becoming colder at this time of the year. CARE helps by installing water and sanitation facilities, fixing infrastructure and providing hygiene promotion for Syrian refugees and local communities in different areas of Lebanon.
Cambodia is impacted by the monsoon that causes annual flooding of the provinces along the Mekong river and adjacent provinces. When flooding hit in late July, Sithor Kandal District in Prey Veng was badly affected. Nearly 12,000 hectares of rice was destroyed across fifty villages in eleven communes. The community had urgent need for food, clean water, healthcare and assistance to restart cultivation of crops that were destroyed.
Srey Kheng, 42, lives in a small 5m2 house with her six family members. Her husband used to be the main earner in the family, but he became sick. Kheng had to send her eldest son to work in Phnom Penh to support the family, which otherwise depends on work in the rice field. Kheng must now care for her sick husband and her elderly mother, while at the same time supporting her daughter’s studies.
During the flood season, lack of food caused suffering for her whole family. They are very dependent on their rice field for food, so any damage can have a huge impact.
‘I really worry about having no food to live on when flooding occurs. I had already prepared before the flood by borrowing some rice from my neighbour in exchange for labour work in their rice field after flooding. However, I was unable to produce any more from my own field as my crops were destroyed.’
CARE provided Kheng with additional rice as part of the emergency response. As a result of the extra rice, Kheng was able to feed her family without taking her daughter out of school; these extra supplies helped to tide them over while they replanted. Kheng hopes to use her rice field to produce enough food to eat and pay back the rice to her neighbour.
In a culture where boys are often sent to school while their sisters help at home, Kheng’s focus on her daughter’s education is very positive. She recognises that her girls, as well as her boys, will benefit from education and make a positive contribution to the family.
‘I am trying to send one daughter to school until high school, so I am saving some money for her study. My best hope for the future is my daughter. I hope that my children can live with good standards in the future.’
This bag of rice from CARE will not just overcome temporary hunger within Kheng’s family. It will affect her daughter’s future prospects by allowing her to continue her education without interruption, ensuring that she has opportunities to develop and grow as a valued member of society.
The worst Ebola outbreak in history has hit West Africa, with almost half of all confirmed cases resulting in death. This Ebola outbreak is, by far, the largest and deadliest ever. CARE emergency teams are in Sierra Leone and Liberia, helping to stop the spread of disease by distributing hygiene kits and promoting hygiene. Donate now to CARE’s Ebola Crisis Appeal.
By Melora Palmer, CARE Haiti
Adjoua Martine Konan had heard people in this cocoa-farming region of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) talk about the Ebola outbreak that was ravaging neighbouring Liberia and Guinea. But Konan didn’t think the outbreak was real. ‘I thought it was just a rumor,’ she said, ‘created by Westerners to stop us from eating bush meat.’
Her community, like many here in western Cote d’Ivoire, has long depended on bush meat, including small rodents, as a source of vital protein. So it was hard to accept what health experts were saying: the handling and consumption of Ebola-infected bush meat can spread the disease among humans. But after seeing images of victims in the media, ‘I realised that Ebola is very real, said Konan, a slender woman whose shy and retiring smile belies her strength. Since then, Konan has attended Ebola prevention sessions initiated with the help of CARE. And her thinking changed.
More importantly, she started changing how others in her community view the Ebola threat too. The single mother of five boys and one girl serves as vice president of the Community Development Committee in Brokoua, a village of 1,000 people in the central west of Cote d’Ivoire. The committees, part of the Cocoa Life project, engage with all of the community — including women and children, farmers, and village leaders— to take forward development plans designed together to lift them out of poverty. The sessions on Ebola prevention were integrated into regular training events as part of CARE’s support of the government’s Ebola prevention plan. Armed with posters and storyboards designed by the Ministry of Health, the committees spread messages on how to stop Ebola in its tracks. ‘I now know more about Ebola,’ Konan said, ‘what it is and how to prevent it from entering into my village.’
Konan returned to home and started holding meetings with neighbours. Families are now eating more fish, pork and beef instead of bush meat, she said. Konan also has coached her neighbours in washing their hands regularly and encouraged them to avoid shaking hands and other normal greetings that involve touching. She crosses her arms over her chest to demonstrate. ‘It is hard for us to change our habits, but we know we need to, to stop transmission.’
Celestin Bouazo, another participant in Cocoa Life training session, agrees. An elder and village chief in nearby Bezu, he is spreading Ebola prevention practices among the forested hamlet’s roughly 2,000 residents. The father of nine said that means maintaining the respect of not only locals, referred to as autochtones, but also the immigrant community (Liberian, Malawian, Burkinabe, Guineans), called allogènes.
Knowing that maintaining their trust is more important than ever, Bouazo said he has started sending invitations to meetings in the form of official letters, which convey greater respect. ‘Before I would just send my messenger to their houses to tell them to come to a meeting. CARE helped me change the way that I communicate with others and now I am more respected by all village groups.’
The training sessions attended by Bouzo, Konan and 30 other community leaders in the region include information on how to identify potentially sick people. They also advise participants on how to report the suspected cases in a way that won’t stigmatise people in an area that is home to multiple allogène groups. A key tool: a new national hotline installed by the Ivorian government to receive reports of suspected new cases.
Sekou Traore, who oversees five local cocoa cooperatives, agrees that communicating across ethnic lines is critical to assuring Cote d’Ivoire doesn’t become the next country in West Africa with a severe Ebola outbreak. Traore, who works regularly with various groups to coordinate the harvest and cocoa sales, said now a key part of his job is preventing Ebola. After participating in one of the training sessions, Traore said he’s going to organise more meetings with village chiefs and community committees in the region so they can grow into Ebola prevention advocates too. ‘We are acting quickly to spread information about the sickness and how to protect our communities against it.’
Today marks six months since Azraq refugee camp opened in Jordan to cope with the wave of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria. CARE Jordan’s Team Leader in Azraq Camp, Marten Mylius, reflects on Azraq’s opening night.
The wind had really picked up and I started to shiver. The desert seemed to be hell-bent on showing its inhospitable face.
‘Already past 4.30 am, I don’t get it,’ mumbled the old man into his steaming coffee.
His neat uniform holds the emblem of a private security company. In the moonlight I could see the rolling hills with their bare, small patches of grass and bush in a sea of stones and dust. No houses, street lamps, or mosques in sight. Not even a moving car. At least nowhere near the perimeter that marks the boundaries of what could turn into one of the biggest refugee camps in the world.
‘It is probably just the registration in Rabah Sarhan that is taking them longer,’ surmised one of my senior team members.
The sense of anticipation kept us on our toes, even though we had already spent more than four hours walking through the area which was designed to receive refugees. We would eventually hand them all the items they need to live in the camp before they are shuttled in the morning hours down into the camp.
My team members seemed to radiate the confidence that the systems and partners would jump into action, turning this place into a lively, safe and dignified environment.
This is not our first time of working in a refugee camp. The media stories about what happens in refugee camps also kept lingering in my mind; will we face angry crowds, ready to hurl rocks at us at the smallest provocation? Do we need to worry about the team that has been trained so extensively over the past months and that is so eager to assist our brothers and sisters from Syria?
My gloomy thoughts have been swept aside. Now, I realise how contagious my team’s optimism is. It is not blind; they know that a split-second can release the tension that exists under the surface. What gives them comfort and this positive outlook is the nature of our program in Azraq and the mutual reassurances that everything will be different here.
It might not be fair to compare Za’atari and Azraq camps. The former was established in the midst of a formidable humanitarian emergency. Thousands flocked day after day to Jordan seeking safety and help. Within the shortest time span, the camp had 100,000 inhabitants. All energy went into making the basic necessities available as fast as possible. It was a tremendous logistical achievement.
However, it came at a price. People need more than water, food and a place to dwell. They need something meaningful to do and a seat at the table where decisions are being made.
Za’atari’s capacity wasn’t endless. The conflict in Syria did not show any sign of abating. Millions continued to find themselves displaced within Syria. The longer the conflict lasts, the more their coping mechanisms eroded and the harder it became to survive on their own accounts, leading to more pressure on neighboring countries to host even more refugees. That is when Azraq camp came in.
We had the luxury of studying Za’atari and seeing what needed to be done differently. Azraq camp wouldn’t have a mass of shelters, but a neighborhood of various villages. In the middle of each village you would find community centres that CARE built with the support of UNHCR, to encourage an active community life, and combat idleness and misinformation.
I still remember vividly the event of the opening of the camp in late April, when we all stood shivering in the cold. There was already a sense of achievement, even though we had not received any refugees yet. That sense of achievement was not at all misplaced. More than 12 months of work had already gone into the preparation of this place.
Water tanks on the tops of the hills were connected to pipes running down to tab stands and more than 100km of tarmac roads had emerged in the north-eastern Jordanian desert. Even the supermarket had come up at an impressive pace during the last four weeks.
When the buses finally brought the first refugees to the reception area of Azraq camp, the sun was about to rise.
The number of children was striking. Even now, six months after the camp opened, more than half of the 14,000 refugees living in the camp are children. They are almost completely deprived of any belongings. Many of them just carry the clothes they are wearing.
This would warrant CARE to undertake the distribution of clothes, even though this was not planned. So far, the community centres have been quite successful in addressing most problems, involving the other 20 agencies that work in Azraq camp and engaging the refugees with options and solutions. We are not complimenting ourselves too much when we state that we have, to a great degree, contributed to a successful first six months in Azraq camp.
In Egypt, Yemen and Jordan, CARE’s Women’s Empowerment through Stage Animated Awareness and Lobbying (WESAL) project aims to combat violence against women by raising community awareness using theatre. ‘WESAL’, which in the Arabic language comes from the root ‘to join’, is an expression that means ‘channel of communication and understanding’. Here are two of the project’s success stories.
By Mona Soliman, Communications Advisor, CARE International in Egypt
Martin gains confidence and his family’s love
Martin Kamel is a young man in his early twenties who grew up in Minya. Like many youths in Upper Egypt, he was given family responsibilities at an early age. He was forced by his father to drop out of school and start earning his own bread and butter. ‘My father didn’t realise that he deprived me of being my age,’ Martin explains.
Martin grew up feeling oppressed, and found himself impulsively oppressing his sisters and treating them violently. Being females, he started to think of them as less worthy and admits to having been aggressive with them.
Martin was introduced to CARE’s interactive theatre, through the WESAL project, where he participated in training around equity, women’s rights and combating violence against women. Through acting, he realised that he was mistreating his sisters, which made him feel regretful. The play mirrored his own harsh behaviour, and he saw with clarity the negative impact he had on his sisters, instead of giving them comfort and safety.
‘I discovered that I was oppressing my sisters,’ he admits. ‘When I played the role of the father who is violent against his daughter in one of the scenes of the interactive theatre run by CARE, this is when I realised that I must change.’
This change made Martin happy, and he gained more self-confidence as a result. He learnt to express himself freely and confess his mistakes without hesitation.
‘My colleagues, trainers and supervisors in the community theatre have contributed to my change.’ He is proud of this, and confidently talks with other women in the community about his experience.
Martin not only started listening to his sisters, but has also encouraged his mother to join the life experiences theatre led by WESAL. He explains that the theatre allowed him to gain the trust and love of his family.
He dreams of seeing the interactive theatre providing training to a larger audience of young men and women to empower them to talk and share their experiences. Martin has changed forever and so can hundreds of others; they just have to understand how violence and oppression can have negative consequences for themselves and their loved ones – and the whole community.
Rasha breaks her silence
Rasha, 25, lives with her family in Minya. She describes her former life as a neglected family member; nobody asked her opinion on any matter, even if it was relevant to her.
She did all the household chores without objection. She felt forgotten by her own family and had no impact on any family decisions. ‘I never expressed my opinion. I didn’t communicate with anyone. Actually, I didn’t talk with my father or siblings,’ Rasha explains.
After participating in WESAL’s interactive theatre training and shows, everything changed. ‘I was trained to express myself. I also participated in theatre shows in front of the villagers. I now feel that I have a role to play in the community. I can express my opinion freely and I have the ability to criticise unacceptable situations.’
Rasha learnt how to speak up and defend herself. She can now make herself heard. She feels stronger after participating as a volunteer in the women’s support group.
‘The WESAL staff helped me a lot since the beginning. They accepted me in spite of the fact that I didn’t accept myself. This helped me to develop and feel more confident and accepted.’
Nashwa noticed the change and was happy to see her sister become more interactive. ‘Rasha acted like a deaf-mute person. She now knows how to speak and express herself, and has a voice. After such a change took place in the life of my sister, I decided to participate in the new WESAL group.’
Rasha overcame feelings of oppression and inferiority. She is happy to now be an active participant in the community and, above all, have an impact in her family.
Without its farmers, South Sudan remains perilously close to famine.
Today is World Food Day. The theme for this year’s World Food Day is ‘family farming’ but there’s not a lot to celebrate in South Sudan where the specter of famine looms large. CARE’s Senior Advisor on Emergency Food and Nutrition Security, Justus Liku, explains.
Family farms – managed by a family, and reliant on their labour – are an important part of rural development. In countries like South Sudan, they play a critical role in providing food security and livelihoods, managing natural resources, and building civil society through farmer organisations.
But 2014 hasn’t been a good year for family farming here. The conflict that began in South Sudan in December 2013 has disrupted every layer of life of this young nation. According to the UN, 1.4 million South Sudanese have been displaced, and almost half a million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The UN is currently hosting more than 99,000 South Sudanese in Protection of Civilian sites at its bases around the country. Many families have been destroyed, their meager farms left barren.
South Sudan should not be food insecure. The country is blessed with vast tracts of arable land, an enviable water source in the Nile River, a perfect climate for growing a wide range of crops, and the human resources to tend them. Prior to the current crisis, more than 90 per cent of the country’s estimated 10 million people earned their living from agriculture, mainly through smallholder, family owned farms producing staple crops like sorghum, and by herding cattle.
But not now.
The spectre of famine is looming large over South Sudan today. Recent figures from the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC), the key tool for monitoring the status of the food crisis in South Sudan, estimate around 1.5 million people are living in food crisis (Phase 3) and food emergency (Phase 4). The outlook for 2015 remains bleak, particularly with the expectation of renewed fighting in the coming dry season.
In some parts of South Sudan, family farming has continued through the crisis. The tropical climate of the green belt in the country’s south, along the border with Uganda, produces fruit, vegetables and cereals, mainly in smallholder farms owned and run by families. But these farmers can no longer access many of their traditional markets inside the conflict affected areas of the country. Fighting has closed the roads that carried goods, destroyed towns that hosted once vibrant local markets, and displaced the people for whom the markets represented a source of both food and livelihoods.
Food prices have skyrocketed in conflict affected states such as Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei, where imports from neighbouring countries like Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan are substituting produce traditionally grown by South Sudanese farming families. The result is an increasing dependency on imports that, if sustained, will further diminish family farms in South Sudan.
World Food Day is an important date for farming communities across the globe – but not in South Sudan. Without its farmers, markets and transport infrastructure, this country remains perilously close to famine.
About CARE’s emergency response
Since the outbreak of violence, CARE has provided assistance to more than 300,000 people across South Sudan’s three hardest-hit states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei. CARE is providing seeds and tools, as well as assistance in nutrition, emergency water, sanitation, hygiene services, peace building and gender-based violence.
Ahead of the International Day of the Girl on 11 October, CARE warns that an increasing number of Syrian refugee parents are arranging marriages for their daughters due to economic hardship and concerns about the security and protection of their daughters in an unknown environment.
When Muzoon, 16, reached Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan after fleeing Syria, she thought that her life had come to an end. But what she found was the passion and challenge of her life: advocating for education and against early marriage. CARE’s Johanna Mitscherlich spoke to Muzoon about her story.
The last thing I remember about Syria is my last day at school. It was the hardest day of my life. I have always been very ambitious and one of the top students in my class. I had only four weeks left to finish ninth grade when my father told my sister, my two brothers and me that we would have to flee to Jordan. I was yelling at him and screaming. He explained to us that it was not safe anymore, that people were getting killed and arrested. I did not care about our safety and told my parents that I preferred to stay in the middle of the bombings rather than having to leave my country. But in the end I kept quiet. I knew that if I made my family stay and anything would happen, I could never ever forgive myself. The only thing I knew about Jordan I knew from TV. I had seen videos of Zaatari Camp on the news, and I was horrified.
The next day I was sitting in my classroom. I did not listen to what my teacher was saying. My head kept spinning and the teacher’s voice sounded like a foreign language I don’t understand, a distant echo. My ears were deaf and I could not speak. It was like one of those dreams when someone is chasing you, but your legs are numb and you cannot move. I just wanted to process what was happening and prepare myself for my new life. I could not tell my teachers or my friends that I would never come back to sit in my seat in the second row. My parents told me that people might stop us from leaving if they would know about our plans. When I left I was the 20th out of 40 students in my class who did not return to class. Some had fled, some had died.
The next day we drove to the border. We waited until it got dark and then walked two hours until we crossed the border to Jordan and were brought to Zaatari camp by people my father had to pay. On my first day at school in Zaatari camp, I sat next to a girl called Abir. Abir was beautiful, smart and a lot of fun to be around. She became a good friend. But a few weeks later, Abir told me that she is planning to get married. She kept telling me that she would be wearing a beautiful dress on her wedding day and that her husband would buy her all the clothes she would want to have. She dreamt of taking responsibility, to feel equal to the grown-ups around her. She said that with the crisis in Syria her childhood had ended anyway.
I am still angry when I think about Abir, but I also feel very sad. I spent days trying to persuade her to finish her school first. ‘Girls our age should be wearing a school uniform, not a wedding dress,’ I told her. ‘Nothing can ever be better than studying. All these things you dream about might not come true. But when you work hard you can buy yourself the shoes you like and you can still get married when you have completed your studies.’ But Abir did not listen. At got married a few weeks later, at only 15. I never saw my friend again.
As disappointed as I was, I also felt like I found a purpose in my life. Ever since I lost Abir as my friend, I want to fight against child marriage; I want to learn as much as possible and excel in school and become a journalist. I want to write about child brides, and I want to write for them so they know that getting married is not a solution. I want to tell them that getting married at an early age will mean abandoning their dreams and closing a lot of doors for their future. They will not have time to go to school, but will need to clean the house and prepare food for their husband. When they get pregnant, they are endangering their health.
In my past year in Jordan I have talked to many girls, my age or younger, who were planning to get married. I was able to persuade some of them to wait, and I have seen many more not return to class. A lot of times their parents want them to get married because they do not have enough money to feed all of their children. Some think that there is no point in sending their girls to school anymore, as their entire life has fallen apart anyway. I understand their reasoning, but I do not want to accept it. I know myself how horrible it is to flee and to leave your whole life behind. When we left, I could only take a small backpack with me. I had trouble deciding what I would put in there. My father came to my room while I was spreading all of my belongings on the ground and hysterically tried to make a choice. He put his arm around me and told me that it would not matter what I took with me. ‘All what you need is in there,’ he said and pointed at my forehead. ‘Whatever happens in life, the only thing that no one can take away from you is what you have in your head.’
In each of the tens of thousands of tiny white houses in Azraq refugee camp, where I moved to from Zaatari camp a couple of months ago, people sleep and dream about what has happened to them in Syria, and what they wish for the future. Society has told them what is right and what is wrong, and girls are told that marrying early is acceptable and will make their lives better. But it should be for them to decide what is right and wrong for their own lives.
Girls are the foundation of our society. Girls will become mothers and they will tell their sons and daughters about the value of education. There is no better investment in society, in the future of entire nations than investing in a girl’s education. When I had to flee to Jordan I thought this will be the end of my life. But it really was the beginning of something new, the start of my life-long challenge to fight against child marriage and for education for my fellow, beloved Syrian girls.
by Laura Dunens, Online Communications Officer, CARE Australia
Last month, I was fortunate to travel with CARE to visit our projects in the very remote village of Simbari in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG).
I was greeted by smiling faces wherever I went and, over the course of speaking with a multitude of people, heard incredible stories of suffering and resilience.
Here are some of the amazing people CARE works with, all of whom I feel incredibly lucky to have met.
More than 140,000 Syrian refugees have fled across the border to southern Turkey. CARE is assessing needs and coordinating with the Turkish authorities and other organisations to distribute food, blankets and hygiene items to newly arrived refugees most in need. Here are some of their stories.
Alan Abraka* is a lawyer from a village 50km from Kobane, Syria. He is helping CARE to carry out assessments in Turkey.
‘We are no longer in control of our village and many of my family have had to flee to Raqqa. It is very frightening. They took my cousin for five days and they killed a girl who had an injured finger as they thought she had been fighting against them.
My father is 87 years old. He walked 20km at night as it was his only option to save himself. It is uncivil there.’
Suleyman Aiyab*, aged 26, is a student from Kobane has been helping CARE do assessments of his fellow Kurdish Syrian refugees.
‘I saw people sleeping on the border, and in the morning many of them go back to their homes in Kobane if they can. The situation is very bad. They need medicine, they have no water, food or electricity, even the simplest way of living is lost during this fighting.
People are sleeping in areas along the border that may have landmines. These are old landmines, but yesterday I saw a young boy step on one and get badly injured.
The psychological situation is terrible for those people at the border. Something must be done to help our people. I went back to Kobane yesterday to do what I could to help. The people coming to Turkey are desperate, they are living in parks and drinking dirty water but local people are trying to help by giving them water and blankets.
People need everything – they are arriving just with the clothes on their back. One family had just 200 Syrian Pounds ($1.25USD) with them. People are coming from Kobane without their shoes. They are terrified they will be killed, but they are also afraid about diseases spreading among them as they are now living and sleeping in such cramped conditions. If one person gets sick, they will all get sick.’
Mariam Üstün is 25 years old. She sits on the floor along with eight other adults, including two very elderly men and numerous children. The elderly man, Ismail Yousef Hessi, aged 70, holds up the plastic bag containing just a few more days of his medicine. He implores us to help as his eyes well up and then look away in despair. There are 25 more family members coming to share their cramped space in the coming days.
Mariam is also ill, her skin is acutely jaundiced and she looks exhausted.
‘There is bombing in Kobane, we were scared and had to leave. We had no time so we just left in the clothes we are wearing. My uncle is sick, so we were let through, but we have family sleeping on the border. When there is no bombing people go back to their houses in the day to get food.
We only have medicine for a few days. I am sick with hepatitis but we left without our papers so we cannot get treatment.
Kobane used to be peaceful. Other people affected by the war from all over Syria came to Kobane to be safe but now we have all had to flee.
We have no idea what will happen next; we are just hoping it will get better as we have no income here. We really just hope for peace because the situation is very bad for us here.’
Azad Zada* stands at bus station in Nizip surrounded by a huddle of people looking exhausted and surrounded by a meagre few bags of possessions.
‘I arrived six days ago from Kobane. My people there are suffering a lot and we have to help them. I have rented a flat in Nizip, and now many others have arrived and we have to take them in. We cannot bear the situation there but it is not comfortable here either. We are afraid to go home, the children are terrified. The people have nowhere to go. Some are trying to find shelter in warehouses or building sites.’
Hasan Izada, aged 38, is a driver from Kobane who arrived in Nizip along with eight other families. They are seeking shelter in three bare concrete rooms that seem to have been used for storage.
‘We escaped when the fighting was about four kilometres from us. There were lots of injured people and burnt cars on the street. Our homes are destroyed.
We left everything there and fled with my children. We have just the clothes that we are wearing.
The border was difficult. We had to wait for seven hours; there were so many people waiting to get into Turkey and not everyone could get through. There are landmines in the ground along the border. They are old but we saw people step on them – they were losing their legs and their arms and even cars were going over them and being blown up.
We knew someone in Nizip who told use to come to this place. We don’t know what will happen to us next.’
Four women, a baby, two toddlers, a young girl and a small boy of about three or four who is blind, sit on a threadbare rug in a concrete room in their new home of Nizip, Turkey near the Syrian border. It is three metres by two metres with no electricity, and no door, except for a ragged curtain. The children have a skin infection on their scalps; their heads look raw and flakey in their matted hair. The young baby, Kamal, though small for his 40 days of life, looks content and smiling in his mother Halima’s Ali’s* arms as she tells their story.
‘We all live here in this room. The children have skin diseases, but we cannot get them treatment. We have no food to eat. We buy the food that has gone bad from the market as it is the cheapest we can get. We take the children in the street to beg for money. We arrived from Damascus three months ago. We travelled in a vehicle with animals to get here. Most of our men have stayed in Syria but it is at least safer here.
‘My baby was just three days old when we fled from Damascus to Turkey. We needed to go somewhere safe. We let an elderly lady stay with us. She has nowhere to go so everyday she goes to a different home.’
Suria Masa*, surrounded by her grandchildren in Nizip
‘After the massacre in Homs we just had to get out. Our home was destroyed and we walked and got cars to the border. We suffered a lot to get to the border. There are 13 of us living in three rooms now. When my children manage to get some work, we have food but, if not, then we have nothing and my grandchildren go hungry. As long as there is no peace in Syria we cannot go back.’
CARE is assessing needs and coordinating with the Turkish authorities and other organisations to distribute food, blankets and hygiene items to newly arrived refugees most in need. CARE has been supporting more than half a million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria since the beginning of the crisis.
*Names changed at the request of the interviewees
In an emergency, the elderly are particularly vulnerable. With less mobility, or vision and hearing impairments, the elderly are often unable to flee quickly in times of attack, and are unable to collect food, firewood or water, relying on others to survive. Many often face the trauma of isolation and the loss of the ability to earn an income.
On International Day of Older Persons (1 October), CARE Australia’s Tom Perry meets 70-something Mary Mbek Anger, for whom the past nine months have become a living nightmare.
By Tom Perry, CARE Australia Media Advisor
Mary Mbek Anger doesn’t know exactly how old she is. With no birth certificate, she can only guess. But she assumes she’s around 70, give or take a few years.
In 2007, Mary’s sight began to quickly deteriorate. She sought medical treatment from an eye specialist in Kenya, but was told that nothing could be done. Within a few months, her vision was gone, and she has relied on the support of her family for food and shelter ever since. Despite this, Mary says life was kind to her then.
‘Before this war, we had our own belongings, our own life,’ said Mary. ‘I was happy. My husband and children were able to help me get around. He was tending to the animals, we were cultivating a lot of crops and food.’
Yet on Christmas Eve last year, Mary’s life forever changed. War broke out in the South Sudanese capital Juba on 15 December, and quickly spread across the country. Within a few short days, much of South Sudan’s Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile states were being torn apart. By Christmas Eve (24 December), the violence had arrived in Mary’s home town of Panyang, in South Sudan’s far north.
‘Our hope is simply to survive. Without a home, without food, we can’t do anything.’
Mary and her family took refuge in their home, praying they would be safe. Yet within hours, soldiers arrived. They torched crops and homes and slaughtered animals by the hundreds. As Mary recalls: ‘It was all burned, burned to ash.’
Men were being rounded up and executed. Mary’s husband – despite his own age and frailty – tried to evacuate her and the family, gathering up the children and grandchildren and moving them, as best he could, to the nearby bush. Fatefully, he chose to return to the house to gather up some possessions such the all-important jerry can. On his return he was captured by soldiers, and was promptly shot dead, much to the horror of Mary and her family.
The family hid in the bushes until sunset, then began moving slowly through the bush, travelling only at night to avoid being spotted. Frail and unable to see, Mary relied on the voices of her distraught family to find her way.
‘I could just hear the sound of the little ones crying, and I was relying on them to guide me.’
After a two-day journey north moving slowly through the bush, Mary and her young nieces arrived in the refugee settlement of Yida, near the Sudanese border. After some weeks of sleeping in the open, they were given some space on the floor of a stranger who was kind enough to offer her and the children a place to stay.
Nine months on, and Mary is unable to move without help, and relies on her children and grandchildren, who spend much of their time begging, gathering firewood or hunting for edible plants to eat from the surrounding bush. She says life is near impossible, that without crops, livestock or even a home, they are depending on the kindness of others to survive.
‘I feel completely sad. This house is not mine. I’ve lost so many things, including my husband,’ explained Mary. ‘He was the one I relied on to help me now that I’m blind. He would help to bring me food, give me shelter.’
‘Now I have no source of income at all. Apart from the wild greens from the bush that I can eat. We’re just begging from people around here, from good samaritans, people who are helping us, day-to-day.’
CARE has provided Mary and her family with seeds, and the tools to cultivate them. They have begun to grow vegetables, including onions, tomatoes and eggplant in the hope of having enough to eat over the coming months, and potentially, some left over to sell at the nearby market.
While Mary says that while she and her family hope peace can come back to South Sudan, their thoughts are purely focused on basic needs to get them through each day.
‘Our hope is simply to survive. Without a home, without food, we can’t do anything. I just want to survive, to have shelter, to have food.’
An estimated 1.5 million South Sudanese have fled their homes since war broke out across the country in December, including more than 480,000 who have fled to neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. The massive displacement, insecurity and conflict has the potential to lead to a severe hunger which is affecting up to 3.9 million people.
CARE is providing medical and sanitation support, supplementary feeding for malnourished children, seeds and other relief supplies to families across South Sudan’s hardest hit states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei.
On 16 September, the northern Syrian town of Kobane, a town predominantly populated with Kurdish people, came under siege. Since then, more than 150,000 refugees have flooded across the border into Turkey, joining around 850,000 registered Syrian refugees who have sought safety in Turkey since the beginning of the Syria crisis. CARE International UK’s Danielle Spencer was part of the CARE emergency assessment team on the ground.
by Danielle Spencer, Senior Humanitarian Advisor: Gender and Protection, CARE International UK
I can see the homes of Kobane from the camp. White houses glinting in the sunlight which look like I could reach out and touch them. The clouds of smoke which billowed from the city days before have stopped and the town looks peaceful now, from a distance. Women and men look over the Turkey/Syria border at their homes; a constant reminder of why they can’t go back. The sound of a nearby explosion echoes around us as the woman I am sitting with tells me about her life and the recent death of her two children.
A man overhears our conversation, comes over to us, and the conversation turns to politics, as it inevitably does here. The geopolitical issues we hear on the news are very real for the people here; they are living and breathing the headlines we see on a daily basis. The man’s eyes well up and before long he is telling me about his cousin who was killed brutally, tied to the back of a car and dragged around town as a warning to others.
Later, as I walk into a school, the searing heat of the Middle-Eastern sun hits me. Next comes the smell. The sour, acrid smell of people who have not been able to wash for days on end and of women who have resorted to washing their clothes in the toilet bowl to try and prevent infection. They wash their clothes in fear, and hesitate to use the toilet to relieve themselves, as they are afraid and embarrassed of using the latrine in front of the men who are using the bathroom to shave.
Men and boys reported feeling anxious that sexual violence could occur here against women and girls. There were no reports of this actually occurring, but given the brutality they have fled from at home, it is easy to understand why they are scared. They tell me, through tearful eyes, about their children being unable to sleep, of their young sons and daughters having nightmares about being kidnapped and torrid dreams that their mothers and sisters will be raped.
They fled their homes because of these fears, because they had a small taste of the violence to come. They told me stories of girls sold in markets in Kurdish parts of Iraq, of intimidation, and their fears that their sons will be kidnapped never to be seen again.
As one man told me: ‘We needed to escape before they slaughtered our girls before our eyes.’
Humanitarian agencies have a responsibility to respond to the complete inhumane misery endured by these besieged people. Women and girls have endured heinous acts of sexual violence, while men and boys have faced unbearable physical cruelty.
I was therefore heartened that the CARE emergency gender and protection assessment team worked alongside a number of other humanitarian agencies – because none of us can respond appropriately to this alone. I hope we can work together to ensure that the former residents of Kobane are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, and receive the psychosocial support they desperately need after suffering some of the most stressful and traumatic experiences I have ever come across in my career in aid work.
CARE is currently assessing needs and coordinating with the Turkish authorities and other organisations to provide the newly arrived refugees with food, blankets and hygiene items. CARE has supported more than half a million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria since the beginning of the crisis.
By Robert Glasser, CARE International’s Secretary General
The UN climate summit in New York is billed as the most important high-level event on climate change since heads of state met in Copenhagen in 2009, is generating widespread interest – and so it should. Climate change is the critical issue of our time.
The people we work with at CARE in many of the world’s poorest countries need no reminder about the scale and pace of global climate disruption now underway. From the daily reports of our emergency teams around the world, it has become increasingly clear to me that extreme and unpredictable weather events have now become the new norm.
Here’s a snapshot from the last three weeks. Cambodia: Floods and drought. India: Jammu and Kashmir floods. Philippines: Typhoon Luis. Nepal: Floods and landslides. Vietnam: Alert, typhoon Kalmeigi. Somalia: Drought and food insecurity. Philippines: alert, tropical storm Luis. Ethiopia: Drought and food insecurity. Kenya: Drought alert. Sri Lanka: Drought and food insecurity. Bangladesh: Floods alert. And the list goes on. The scale of destruction – and the individual stories – that lie behind each and every emergency are heart wrenching.
Unless governments act now, things will only get worse. According to last week’s report from the World Meteorological Organisation, greenhouse gas levels are rising at alarming rates, reaching record levels in 2013. Next month, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will warn once again that the world is heading towards devastating global warming unless we slam the brakes on global emissions.
The good news is that on 23 September world leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to make the right choices for the poorest people on our planet, who are unjustly bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, and for current and future generations.
Although the summit is not aiming to deliver a joint outcome, such as a negotiated treaty, every world leader, particularly from the most powerful nations, can and must show they are serious about the urgency of the climate threat. With this in mind, here is a three-point plan we believe is essential to meet the challenge.
First, leaders have to agree to dramatically reduce and ultimately phase-out greenhouse gas emissions. That means agreeing to leave fossil fuels in the ground, rather than continuing to extract and burn them; finding new ways to scale up renewable energy well before 2020, working towards a net carbon-free economy based on renewables; and re-affirming global commitments to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. To date, the world has only warmed by about 0.9 degrees since the Industrial Revolution. With a business as usual model, we’re at severe risk of shooting past 4 degrees by the end of this century. That would entail extreme warming with extreme consequences for us all, but particularly for poor communities.
Second, we want to see bold action to tackle current and future climate impacts. Governments must deliver more support to help people adapt to growing climate disruption in Nepal, in Bangladesh, in Cambodia, in Ethiopia, and right across countries and communities on the climate change front-line.
We also want to see all such adaptation measures delivered fairly – ensuring that they target the most vulnerable, many of whom are women and girls; that local communities are empowered to lead their own adaptation plans; and that all measures go hand in hand with securing gender equality and improved rights for the poorest.
Developed countries have contributed the bulk of the greenhouse gases that are driving climate change, so they must also help to foot the bill. The pledges made by leaders from developed countries must add up to the USD 15 billion needed by the Green Climate Fund to help pay for adaptation over the coming years as a minimum, first step.
Third, world leaders must send a clear signal that they will commit to a new and ambitious climate change treaty next year in Paris to set the world on a sustainable, rather than a reckless, path.
At CARE, we know that will not eradicate poverty unless we tackle climate change, so we will be listening and watching – as will the hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens who will take to the streets this weekend in Paris, New York, London, New Delhi, and beyond, and the hundreds of millions who are already living in crisis on the climate change front-lines. Let this be a moment of hope and inspiration for us all.
by Laura Hill, Communications Manager, CARE Australia
In a small, rural village in northern Ethiopia, Fikere and her husband Kasa would like to have three children – two boys and a girl. Late at night, after a hard day’s work on the farm, they talk about sending their kids to school and dream that they will finish university and get good jobs.
Yet there was a time not that long ago when discussions like this were a pipe dream for 18-year-old Fikere. Her husband used to be distant and bossy, and never listened to her views. She had resigned herself to doing what he said to avoid being hurt.
‘Life was miserable before. I had to do all the housework like collecting water, preparing food, looking after his [Kasa’s] parents and the coffee ceremony,’ says Fikere. ‘My high workload meant I was never able to visit my family or go to church or village ceremonies.’
Fikere married Kasa – her second husband – when she was 15. She married her first husband when she was 12 years old but he divorced her at age 14 because she didn’t want to have a baby.
‘I was happy to be rid of him,’ says Fikere of her first husband who was 15 years older than her. ‘I never wanted to marry him in the first place but it was arranged by my parents.’
Fikere’s story is echoed across all corners of the globe. Child marriage affects 14 million girls each year and is, without exception, the biggest challenge to girls’ development. The centuries-old practice perpetuates poverty by cutting short a girl’s education and livelihood opportunities, keeping her poor.
The reasons for child marriage are complex and varied; poverty, cultural norms, lack of education and concerns around girl’s security all play a part. This was the case for Fikere, who was viewed as an economic burden, and accepting a marriage proposal seemed like a good way to alleviate her parents’ financial stress and provide for her future.
But no one in her family understood that by forcing Fikere into premature adulthood, her early marriage and the responsibility of caring for a household would thwart her chance at education, endanger her health and cut short her personal growth and development.
All this took place before CARE’s TESFA project, which stands for Towards Improved Economic and Sexual Reproductive Health Outcomes for Adolescent Girls, and means hope in the local language, started in Fikere’s village.
Nowadays, she and her husband are benefiting from the project. Over a year ago, Fikere joined a support group with other married teenagers. The group meets weekly to learn about sexual and reproductive health, and how to save and invest money. They discuss topics from how to care for a newborn to how to communicate in a relationship.
‘Because I married at an early age I stopped going to school. This made me very sad, but through the TESFA project I am learning again, and my husband and I have agreed that I will return to school soon. My life was dark before, but now there is light,’ says Fikere.
This is a major breakthrough, given her previous relationship with Kasa. When asked what has changed, Fikere says, ‘Attending the peer group meetings gave me the confidence and skill to talk to Kasa about what I was learning and share my ideas for how we could earn more money and live a better life.’
‘While I was going to the peer-group classes and learning how to save and budget money, Kasa was attending village meetings about the TESFA project.’
‘After a few months I noticed that he started listening to me and asking questions, instead of telling me what to do. Then he started helping me with the housework. Now he looks after his parents so that I can visit my family, and he has even prepared the coffee ceremony for his friends so that I can practice reading.’
Fikere adds, ‘Before, I used to hide the contraceptive pill in my headscarf so he wouldn’t find out, but now he knows I am taking it and understands why. We want to have children, but not until I finish school.’
Kasa is proud of Fikere and says their married life is much happier since they both started taking part in the TESFA project.
‘I enjoy attending the village meetings and learning about the dangers of child marriage and other harmful practices like female cutting,’ says Kasa. ‘Before I thought contraceptives were a bad thing and dangerous, but now I know they give us choice.
‘I married Fikere because she was young, cute and her family had land, but now I love her because of her ideas and how she supports me to build a good life for our family,’ says Kasa.
by Aimee Ansari, Country Director, CARE International in South Sudan
In the shower in the Malakal UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) site, as I dodged a swarm of mosquitoes, I realise how deeply angry I am at the situation in South Sudan. I swat at the mosquitoes, taking my anger out on those that bite me in the shower and through my jeans, T-shirt, on top of my head at night. The previous day, I visited Wau Shilluk, a small village an hour’s boat ride from the state capital of Malakal. Since December, the population has doubled with the influx of displaced people seeking some form of safety.
My anger is nothing compared to how the women of Wau Shilluk feel. The women of Wau Shilluk asked me to carry a message to the leaders of the government and opposition in South Sudan: ‘Come to Wau Shilluk and explain yourselves,’ they told me. ‘Explain why the promises of independence three years ago have instead become civil war. Explain why the health clinic isn’t providing adequate services for women such as midwives, antenatal care, nutritional feeding.’ And, most awfully: ‘Explain why soldiers are raping and, if they resist, killing women.’
The women of Wau Shilluk just want their voice to be heard in the peace process; they think that if South Sudan’s leaders meeting at the negotiation table hear them and take the time to sit down and work through their differences, the conflict will end.
The women I met a day earlier in Malakal were just as clear about what they want. They’ve been living in the UN’s PoC site now for many months, and desperately want to leave. And who wouldn’t? The mud, the unsanitary conditions, the lack of privacy and the criminality have become a daily part of their lives. They just want to go home. But they can’t, because it’s too unsafe in town. They want the UN to do more to stop the criminality, to improve living conditions.
I ask the obvious: what would help you to feel like you can return home? They answer by telling me that the war has to stop; that until that happens, they won’t feel safe outside of the PoC site. The women tell me that the targeted killing of people, not for cattle or for wealth or material goods, but because they are their ‘enemies’ has undermined their confidence in the army. They no longer trust anyone with a gun or, indeed, anyone who purports to be a leader.
The women in Wau Shilluk and those in the PoC in Malakal are consistent in their call for genuine leadership in bringing peace and re-establishing law and order. Rachel, a strongly spoken woman who lost her husband in the conflict and recently participated in a CARE-run gender-based violence awareness program, said that peace and law and order are the most important things to her.
‘The leaders have to look into their hearts and ask for forgiveness for the things they’ve done and then make peace with each other and the people,’ Rachel says. ‘It is up to the leaders to make it happen.’ But the tone of her voice tells me that she’s clearly very cynical about it actually happening.
Sadly, many South Sudanese don’t think the conflict will end soon. While the women suffer and push to be heard to stop the craziness of violence against them and their children, their leaders sit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at a cost of about $500,000 per month, accomplishing very little. Even if they do agree, the myriad of armed groups in the country have to agree, too. The amount of violence, killing and suffering that the people of South Sudan have been through means that reconciliation, necessary to re-establish trust in the leaders, may take years to achieve.
Before this conflict started in December, there was no inspiring and unifying vision of what South Sudan could be. The hope and optimism that came with independence is gone. Instead, there is now fear, mistrust and disillusionment between the people of South Sudan. An amazing opportunity has been squandered. It may take years to re-build a sense of unity.
My right big toe has three mosquito bites and is swollen to the size of a small banana and my left ankle has at least seven bites, which makes it look like I’ve contracted some strange disease. But the women I’ve spoken to are so fired up that I am also now angry. I will take their messages back to the capital, to the governments in the region, to the governments that support South Sudan financially and advocate for and alongside these women. And hopefully, when this civil war is over, I’ll have time to worry about the mosquito bites.
CARE is providing food, water and health support to women and girls affected by the crisis in South Sudan, targeting some of the worst affected in three of South Sudan’s hardest-hit states, Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei. CARE is identifying women and girls in need of healthcare and other services, and ensuring that they can access them in as safe and dignified a manner as possible.
CARE is also conducting anti-gender-based violence campaigns throughout the country, meeting with groups of people – men, women and youths – in churches, schools and water distribution points to facilitate knowledge sharing and open dialogue about gender-based violence, to reduce the silence on this issue.
CARE’s recent report, The Girl Has No Rights: Gender-based Violence in South Sudan, reveals that more women and girls are engaging in sex in exchange for food or water for their families; parents are marrying their daughters early for a bride price and to reduce the number of mouths to feed; and rape and sexual assault have become a weapon of war.
More than 13,000 people are currently living in Azraq camp, including around 4,500 Syrian refugees between 6 and 17 years old. On 7 September, classes at the new school in Azraq camp were officially started and are run over two shifts: girls are going to school from 8-12 o’clock; boys from 12-4 o’clock.
As a lot of the children have not been to school for more than 3 years, many of them are first enrolling in informal schools that help them to prepare to join the formal education system again. The Jordanian teachers in Azraq are assisted by Syrian teachers, who are refugees themselves and live in the camp.
by Tom Perry, CARE International’s Media & Communications Officer in South Sudan
‘What did you think?’ I’m asked by Isaac Ibrahim, a CARE-employed nurse, as our truck pulls away from his workplace, Pariang Hospital.
‘Umm… it’s hard. Very hard. You’re obviously all under a lot of pressure,’ I respond, weakly.
Isaac’s simple question has thrown me. I feel like any response will be woefully inadequate to the pressure, frustrations and challenges that Isaac and the 25 other staff at Pariang Hospital, in the far north of South Sudan, are dealing with every single day.
The hospital, in South Sudan’s Unity State, an area home to thousands of refugees from Sudan, is meant to support around 80,000 people from 100 kilometres in each direction. Syringes, equipment and medicines, including antibiotics and anti-malarial medicines, are in short supply. With roads impassable, hospitals like this rely on infrequent and expensive air deliveries for the necessities. Staff are clearly exhausted.
As our truck rolls along the long, straight dusty road back to Yida, where CARE’s operations in this part of Unity State are based, I begin to feel ashamed by my inadequate response. I distract myself by rifling through some notes from the visit. Isaac looks on with youthful interest. I show him some of the photos I’ve just taken, including one I took of him.
I ask Isaac how old he is. He tells me he is 40, but he certainly doesn’t look it. I tell him this, thinking that a change of mood might help, adding that most people think I’m yet to celebrate my 21st birthday, despite being 32. He smiles.
But then he points out a small figure in the background of one of my photos.
‘What did you think of the little girl? About what was happening with her?’
The brief moment of shared youthfulness between us is over, because even without looking at the photo, I know the girl he’s talking about. No more than four or five years old, she was the first person my eyes were drawn to when we arrived at the hospital, sitting quietly on the waiting chair outside the clinic next to her father, a local policeman who had the same exhausted look of so many people here. The little girl was clearly very, very sick.
‘Does she have malaria?’ I ask Isaac.
‘Yes. But it’s more than that,’ he replies. ‘Even for a little girl like her, whose father has a paying job, there isn’t enough food for families to eat.’
‘We’re seeing many children like her. Some have malaria, many have diarrhoea from the malnutrition. Some are so badly malnourished that we have to send them straight to the emergency feeding centres. It’s very common now.’
I ask Isaac about the ‘now’. Since December last year, this country – just three years into its life – has been racked by violence, fear and hunger. And even before the outbreak of violence, South Sudan was one of the poorest countries in the world.
‘Before the war, things were better,’ Isaac tells me. ‘But once this war happened, people have just run away from their homes out of fear. They’ve lost their properties, they are living in very bad situations in the bush or in camps. There’s no healthy food like they used to eat.’
He tells me many sick and injured people were facing frightening journeys just to get to hospitals like Pariang.
‘Patients are coming in from far, far distances away – they’re just coming on foot, having walked for days. Or they’re arriving with transport like donkeys, or four people will be carrying a patient in on foot.’
He pauses and looks down at his hands. Isaac’s clearly seen a lot worse than people coming in exhausted.
‘There is still fear. Fear is still there, even though there is talk of peace agreements. There is no real signs of peace.’
I hope, for people like Isaac, and the hundreds of people he and the staff at Pariang Hospital support each week, that the peace comes soon.
Conflict broke out in South Sudan in December 2013. Since then, 1.5 million people have fled their homes, leaving everything behind and without being able to plant their crops. The massive displacement, insecurity and conflict could lead to a famine affecting up to 3.9 million people. There are already 675,000 moderately and 235,000 acutely malnourished children in South Sudan who could die without any support.
CARE works tirelessly to provide medical support, supplementary feeding for malnourished children, sanitary services, seeds and other relief supplies.
By CARE’s Tom Perry
When I arrived in the South Sudanese capital Juba a few weeks ago, the yelling, pushing, papers, queues and uncertainty were overwhelming, but they were expected. I knew I was flying in to the heart of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. I knew that it would be difficult. But what’s struck me so far is not the difficulties or challenges, but the all-consuming feeling that time is ticking.
Before I departed, many had talked of ‘Africa time’; that time exists differently (well, slower) in this part of the world. If first impressions are anything to go by, large parts of Juba – certainly my CARE colleagues, and others that are working to support the international relief effort here – are running on the sort of time that those working against the clock exist on, where the outcome you’re working to avoid is so devastating that you do everything you can to escape it.
I’m used to fast-paced workplaces, where everyone wants everything an hour ago, where task lists never get shorter and staff are permanently stressed. But not like this. There’s stress, yes, but there’s a sense that any stress is secondary to the critical nature of the work. That every minute, hour and day that goes by is a minute, hour or day lost fighting an extraordinary battle. A battle where well over 10,000 men, women and children have already died, where around 3.5 million people are now facing urgent food shortages. A battle where hunger, malnutrition, physical and mental pain is the norm.
Despite the stress, there’s a unified energy in the CARE office here. United by the fact that this is critical, life-saving work. We’re working extensively across all three of the conflict-hit states, Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei. We’re working inside the UN’s Protection of Civilian camps – home to around 100,000 people across the country. We’re working outside the camps; where one million of those who’ve fled elsewhere – to the bush, to the fields and on the hard dirt floors of distant relatives and complete strangers – still live. And we’re delivering desperately needed food, supplies and medical and psychological support to people who have lived through horrific things and left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
I know many of my CARE colleagues have seen and experienced some awful things. They’re tired, exhausted from the sheer scale of the challenge. Most have been living away from their families for many, many months. Some have even lost loved ones in unspeakably awful attacks. Yet they keep going.
And so any complaints or whinges from me about being overwhelmed; they’re stupid and unreasonable. Because I can eat, and I’m safe. Millions of others around me in South Sudan, who’ve got the same goals in life as I do – a good life, a healthy family – can’t eat, and aren’t safe.
We owe it to them to do something about it. Donate to CARE’s South Sudan appeal now.
Conflict broke out in South Sudan in December 2013. Since then, 1.5 million people have fled their homes, leaving everything behind and without being able to plant their crops. The massive displacement, insecurity and conflict could lead to a famine affecting up to 3.9 million people. There are already 675,000 moderately and 235,000 acutely malnourished children in South Sudan who could die without any support.
CARE works tirelessly to provide medical support, supplementary feeding for malnourished children, sanitary services, seeds and other relief supplies.
by Laura Hill, Communications Manager, CARE Australia
After becoming a child bride at just 12 years of age, Eleni* was forced to leave school and her family. When she joined a group supported by CARE for child-brides, she decided to approach her parents for support to get a divorce and return to school. She’s now studying to become a nurse, and her family are vocal opponents of child marriage.
Twelve-year-old Eleni was so excited to be receiving new clothes from her parents that she didn’t ask why until it was too late.
Dressed in a new t-shirt and skirt she was greeted like a princess by family and neighbours. As the sun rose higher in the sky, guests started to arrive at her house, goats were slaughtered to feed the gathering crowd, and she was brought before her soon-to-be husband for the first time.
Shock and fear filled Eleni as she realised she was about to be married.
‘I was scared and angry because no one told me I was going to be married or that I would be leaving my family behind for another village,’ says Eleni.
‘I didn’t have time to think about how being married would impact my life and dreams. I didn’t even have the chance to talk about it with my parents. The ceremony was over before I knew what had happened.’
Child marriage is common in Ethiopia, where two in every five girls are married before their 18th birthday and nearly one in five girls are married before the age of 15. In the Amhara region, where Eleni lives, the picture is even bleaker – almost half of all girls are married by the age of 15.
Early marriage is a deep rooted tradition in many Ethiopian communities, perpetuated by poverty, a limited chance for education and economic opportunities, and social customs that limit the rights of women and girls.
In the case of Eleni, her parent’s decision to marry their daughter to a man five years older than her was for financial reasons.
‘I am the youngest in my family, and my parents were getting older and finding it difficult to raise enough money to pay for school,’ says Eleni. ‘They wanted someone to look after me and thought my life would be better if I had a husband. They had arranged my siblings’ marriages and didn’t think to question how early marriage would affect my life.’
Eleni says her husband and his family treated her well, but married-life at age twelve wasn’t for her.
‘I missed my family; I was tired all the time from doing a lot of housework and I wanted to go back to school.
‘I was worried about getting pregnant so I secretly went to the health clinic to get contraceptives. When my husband found out he was very mad and I knew I couldn’t do it [be married] anymore.’
Fortunately, Eleni had recently joined a support group for married girls run by CARE. The twice a month meetings run by a trained peer group leader gave her the chance to learn about sexual and reproductive health, how to save and invest money, lessons on how to care for a newborn, and how to communicate in a relationship. Another benefit is the opportunity for Eleni to meet and talk about issues with other girls and to make friends.
The support group was part of the TESFA program, which means ‘hope’ in Amharic. The program seeks to bring measurable, positive change in the economic, sexual and reproductive health of adolescent ever-married (married, divorced and widowed) girls aged 14 to 19. In addition to the support groups, other program activities include a weekly radio program on child marriage, large community meetings, and recruiting and training members of the community such as parents, religious leaders, health workers and teachers on the dangers of early marriage and how they can help prevent it from happening in their village.
With the improved communication, negotiation and problem-solving skills Eleni gained from the support group she had the confidence to discuss her miserable situation with her parents.
‘I spoke with my parents about the dangers of child marriage, such as getting pregnant before my body was ready to have a baby, and that there was a higher risk of getting HIV from my husband. Then I told them how education was the best way for me to help my parents live a better life,’ says Eleni.
Her mother Asmarech recalls the moment Eleni told her parents she wanted to get a divorce.
‘At the beginning it was very difficult for us to understand why she wanted a divorce, but after a long discussion we accepted her wish and permitted her to tell her husband,’ says Asmarech.
Eleni and her parents then spoke with her husband who agreed to the divorce. ‘He was very sad, but understood my dream to return to school,’ says Eleni.
That was one year ago, and today the 14-year-old teenager is in grade 10 and putting her energy towards studying her favourite subject – biology – instead of preparing food, collecting water and looking after in-laws.
As well as going to school, Eleni still attends the TESFA support group meetings and is saving money through a village savings and loan program to help fund her dream of becoming a nurse.
‘I want to get a good job so that my family can have a better life, and when I’m older I’ll chose a husband that will help me achieve this goal,’ she says.
Eleni’s experience and positivity has had a ripple effect on members of her village. Her mother and father are now vocal opponents of child marriage and speak to other parents about the consequences of the dangerous practice. And Eleni’s story has given married girls in the village the confidence to speak up, get support and reclaim control over their lives.
‘I am so happy the TESFA project came to my village. Without it my life would never have been my own, but now I have a better chance at being happy,’ says Eleni smiling from ear to ear.
You can save more girls like Eleni from the dangers of early marriage – donate to CARE’s Child Marriage Appeal
*CARE is committed to being a child safe organisation. Names of children have been changed.
World Humanitarian Day – 19 August 2014
World Humanitarian Day is a time to recognise people who face danger and adversity in order to help others. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the globe.
For CARE staff, working as a humanitarian professional is more than just a job. It’s a mission. Helping refugees become empowered, transforming lives and evoking smiles on the faces of children through our poverty-fighting work are some of the recurring themes that motivate our staff.
However rewarding, being a humanitarian is extremely challenging. Many staff live in harsh conditions – they work in refugee camps or in areas destroyed by natural disasters – leaving loved-ones behind. They witness people’s suffering, listen to traumatic stories and empathise with the people they assist.
Yet compassion, initiative, empathy, optimism, equality and selflessness are some of the words CARE staff use to describe what humanitarianism means to them.
This World Humanitarian Day, we thank the staff featured below and all the humanitarians who have worked for CARE; for helping lift women and their communities out of poverty.
Haifa Abu Amro, Communications Assistant with CARE in Gaza, tells of the violence she – and so many others – are living through.
We were still in our house when the building next to us was hit by a missile in the first days of the war. Windows were blown out, everything fell down around us, children were screaming, but luckily nobody was injured.
When we got out on the street, it was full of broken glass and pieces of concrete on the ground. The air was full of dust, the sky was dark red. All we could see were people running everywhere. The smell was very bad from the fires. There were no more sounds from people, no one was screaming, just running – most were just in their sleeping wear. All we could hear was the noise of buildings falling down. I thought it was the end.
We ran as fast as we could to a relatives’ house, which we thought would be safer. In the morning we left for my parents’ house, but after three days that area was hit as well. Now we are 16 people living at the CARE office.
We volunteered to distribute hygiene kits and canned food that were provided by an aid organisation in the neighbourhood. Everybody is working together now to provide aid as quickly as possible.
In one house we went into, there were 50 to 60 people in each room. They had no food, nothing to sit or sleep on. I think that in most houses now, there are up to 30 families, each with five to six members, huddled together.
People are breaking into office buildings to find a place to sleep. They are women and children, so they cannot sleep in the street. Most of these people, when they return home, they will find nothing. Their houses have been destroyed.
People get news from the radio and SMS. We charge our mobile phones with car batteries. Word spreads quickly of developments. We know that there is a ceasefire now for three days, but people are not optimistic. This disaster will not be over, even if the war ends.
Working in South Sudan holds many challenges for staff to deliver life-saving assistance. A few of them are explained below.
Delivering aid in South Sudan is a challenging endeavour – the country has very few paved roads and supplies can only be transported by air or boat. During the rainy seasons, many mud paths become impassable, cars are stuck and walking is often the only way to move.
Transport by air
Insecurity hampers the delivery of aid supplies by boat, and air lifting goods is often the only safe transportation method. During the rainy season, air strips become flooded and helicopters are the only machines that can land in the mud. Yet the delivery by air is expensive and is restricted in terms of space.
Throughout the remote areas of South Sudan, electricity is delivered by generator, which requires fuel and maintenance. Often, CARE staff have to work in the dark if the generator is not working properly.
Lack of space in crowded camps
Tens of thousands of people have fled the fighting and sought shelter in the United Nations (UN) Protection of Civilan Areas, which are located at the UN compounds. Most aid organisations are working from these compounds to ensure safety for staff and to be close to the displaced people. However, none of the UN compounds were ever designed to hold so many displaced people or aid organisation’s staff.
The fighting has put staff at risk and many had to be evacuated from insecure places at the beginning of the conflict. CARE offices have been looted, cars stolen and destroyed. In addition, insecure travel conditions, diseases and the harsh weather conditions put staff’s well-being at risk.
Lack of funds and equipment
Aid organisations such as CARE lack enough funds to avert a famine – and they lack money to buy the proper equipment. For example, most of the health centres CARE supports across South Sudan lack proper medical equipment, staff and resources.
In Cambodia, CARE is helping children from remote ethnic groups go to school and learn in their native language for the first time. The project’s incredible success has seen it adopted by the Cambodian Government, and replicated in state schools across the country’s north-east.
Khmer – Cambodia’s national language – is the only language of instruction in public schools, but few of the ethnic groups in the north-east provinces speak or understand it. Without an education or understanding of the national language, these communities have struggled to find employment, sell their produce for fair prices at markets and were vulnerable to exploitation.
How things have changed…
Bilingual education opening poverty-fighting opportunities
Students in CARE’s bilingual schools start learning in their native language, with Khmer phased in so they can eventually attend state secondary schools, which teach exclusively in Khmer.
Before this project began in 2002, there were no schools in many remote ethnic minority communities in Cambodia and most indigenous groups did not speak Khmer. This fact is even more staggering when you consider that minority groups in Ratanakiri province make up the majority of the population – over 50 per cent of the province belongs to one of six distinct indigenous communities, each with their own language.
Local teachers, passionate role models
Today, students are being taught by local teachers who had little education themselves, but were selected by village elders as caring and hard working members of the community to be trained as teachers by CARE. Now, these teachers can read. They can write. They can teach. And they are passionate role models to the children that sit in front of them each day.
Keeping children in school
For around four months of every year, Ratanakiri experiences extreme food shortages. When this happens, it’s hard for a hungry family to prioritise education. Mothers, fathers and children – particularly girls – all work together to collect as much food as they can from the surrounding forest, sometimes walking for hours each day with young children in tow to help.
After seeing the impact a lack of food has on school attendance, CARE incorporated an agricultural component to its education program. Now, home gardens produce vegetables year-round, removing the need for long hours spent walking to the forest.
Learning beyond primary school
As well as building new schools, training local teachers in bilingual education and developing relevant curriculum, CARE has also built boarding houses at several state secondary schools. Scholarships are provided to students from remote villages so they can continue learning beyond primary school.
The project is giving these students access to a world of opportunity by unlocking Khmer, a language that will allow them to access their rights – not just as a minority group – but as citizens of Cambodia.
Model adopted by Cambodian Government
The program has been so successful that the Cambodian Government recently adopted a bilingual education policy based on CARE’s project. With the model part of Cambodia’s formal education system, more than 40 state schools across the north-east of Cambodia now support bilingual education.
In South Sudan, a country crippled by violence and on the brink of famine, millions have been forced to flee their homes. Families sheltering in the UN compound outside Bentiu face horrific conditions as heavy rains cause widespread flooding.
by Barbara Jackson, Humanitarian Director, CARE International
Peter Bothi is a storekeeper with the CARE South Sudan team in Bentiu. He is in charge of maintaining the inventory records of the stocks from the medical clinic and office that were once in Bentiu town. Soldiers currently occupy Bentiu and earlier this year, several CARE vehicles were stolen and the offices looted.
Now, Peter works out of the UN compound outside Bentiu town where anywhere between 35,000 and 45,000 people currently live in desperate conditions. Why? Because it is only here that they feel somewhat safe and protected from the continuing violence between the government, the opposition and different factions wearing uniforms of various sorts and carrying many arms.
Peter tells of the day in March when he loaded a CARE vehicle with the office safe, files, medical supplies, and assorted stocks to flee to the UN compound. As he shares his story with me, his face remains emotionless while his words stream from his mouth as he describes being surrounded by armed men and boys in the CARE compound in Bentiu town. Suddenly, a young boy wearing fatigues and waving an AK-47 orders him to be shot. Peter says he wove his way into the group so that he would be surrounded by them as human shields, and that in the confusion as shots rang in the air the group continued on their way without having killed him.
I ask Peter about his family, his wife and children.
‘I called them on the cell phone as we still had cell phone coverage at that time and told them to run through the bush now with the children and reach the UN compound where they will be safe. I didn’t see them for many hours but when I finally arrived at the UN compound where hundreds of people were pouring into the gates, I heard my name being called and saw a neighbour who told me that my wife and children are safe.’
Peter, his wife and four children are now living in a cramped homemade shelter with plastic sheeting. They have two jerry cans to collect fresh water from a common borehole and share a toilet with at least 200 other people.
The rains are heavy at this time of year in South Sudan and water streams through the walkways between the tents and makeshift shelters, spreading refuse including human waste into open drainage canals. Children swim in the fetid water as they have literally nowhere else to play. The living conditions are horrific but Peter says that he at least has food and basic health care for his family, and that they are safe.
He keeps repeating: ‘We are safe for now but we do not know when this will end. Without CARE and other international agencies’ support, we would not be alive today.’
The outbreak of cholera is an imminent threat here as there have been many cases in other UN compounds where CARE and others have been working tirelessly to help prevent any further disease outbreaks. With the threat of a looming famine given the extremely high levels of malnutrition being reported by aid agencies and with the heavy rains continuing through at least October, the situation is not optimistic.
‘We need the rest of the world to support us at this time; we’ve lived through many years of war and we had hoped that we would have peace and that our children would have a better chance for the future.’
I bid goodbye to Peter to board a plane that he cannot take; I leave him and his family and many thousand others to confront months ahead of uncertainty, violence, and the threat of disease and hunger. We all must do more now to prevent the effects of a crisis that is not of these people’s making. Peter’s courage and endurance is reflected in many thousands of people across South Sudan; he and his family should not suffer more.
I am very proud of CARE’s work in Bentiu, but it is not enough. We need to do so much more – it is our obligation, our commitment, and it is the right of the people of South Sudan to receive our and other support at this critical time.
By Mahmoud Shabeeb, Regional Communications Officer for the Syria Crisis
Tomorrow, Muslims around the world will celebrate their most important religious holiday, Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, an entire month of fasting from dawn until sunset.
This Ramadan has been one of the hottest and longest that I remember. People are fasting up to 16 hours a day. It is hot in Jordan right now, but our daily routine continues. I wake every morning and go to work, thinking about how difficult it will be to sit at my desk without my daily dose of caffeine, not being able to drink water when I feel thirsty, or eat during my lunch break. However, at the end of the day I can go home to my family, keep myself busy until sunset, and look forward to a home-cooked meal to break my fast.
Many of the three million Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and other countries throughout the region used to have similar routines and thoughts about Ramadan. Now they have to endure long fasting hours with many questions to think about: What will we eat after sunset? Where will our family break their fast? And with Eid in just a few days, what will our children wear? How can we celebrate this feast when there is little to celebrate? How can we greet our relatives and friends if we cannot reach out to them, and what about those who have died?
Nadir, a Syrian musician who used to run a music school in Daraa before fleeing to Jordan, told me: “I used to buy gifts for my children every Eid; I would even buy them musical instruments that we would play together. Now Eid is coming and I can’t even afford to buy them clothes. I can go around and knock on the doors of charities and organisations asking for help, but that is not something I’m used to doing.”
CARE provides emergency cash assistance for Syrian refugees to pay for their most pressing needs, such as food, clothing and rent. But there is only so much that CARE Australia and other aid organisations can do. There are now nearly three million refugees who have fled Syria for neighbouring countries and more than nine million people inside Syria who are in urgent need of help. CARE has secured less than 25 per cent of the anticipated $200 million funding that we minimally need for our response. At the same time the Syria crisis is ongoing and a political solution has not been found yet.
This is the fourth Eid al-Fitr since the crisis started in 2011. Like every Eid for the past four years, the biggest wish of the Syrian people is for the crisis in their homeland to come to an end. If you ask any Syrian refugee about their wishes for Eid, their answer will be similar to what Nadir replied when I asked him: “All that I wish for is to return home, celebrate Eid with my family, and be able to buy gifts for my children. I am looking forward to celebrating Eid, but my wishes are different from any other year. This year my wish is that all Syrian refugees will be able to celebrate the next Eid al-Fitr in peace at home. Until then, I hope that people celebrating Eid around the world do not forget us.”
Mahmoud Shabeeb is CARE’s Regional Communications Officer for the Syria Crisis and is based in Amman, Jordan
Judith used to face extreme hunger and her daughter was showing signs of malnutrition. Since receiving seeds, tools and training from CARE, she is now leader of a farmers’ group and her family is able to eat three meals a day.
In Timor-Leste, Judith and her family used to face extreme hunger. Her three-year-old daughter Melia* was showing signs of malnutrition – yellowing hair, dull eyes and dizziness. Judith was only able to provide two meals a day for her family, despite spending long days working in the field with her husband.
Our team visited Judith recently, and thanks to the support of our donors we have a very different story to report. Now, Judith is the leader of a farmers’ group and has received maize and vegetable seeds, training and storage drums.
‘I use the maize to feed my family,’ says Judith.
‘I feel happy as in the past the crops were not very good but now, because of the project, the crops are bringing good results and yields have increased. I’m happy as in the past I used to have to buy vegetables for my family but now I have my own.
‘We now cook three meals a day; we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.’
Judith and her farmers’ group members sell their excess crops and share the profit.
‘I try to save the money I make from the vegetables so I can pay school fees, buy shoes, books and pens.’
Most importantly, Melia’s health is now improving.
‘I’m happy that my children are now more healthy,’ Judith says with a smile on her face. ‘They are fatter and are not getting sick as much.’
by Saaed Al Madhoun, Program Officer, CARE International West Bank and Gaza
My boy is only three years old. He feels stressed and depressed and last night after hearing the explosions he said to my wife, ‘I feel that I will die.’
He is only three years old. It makes us so sad. It was such a terrible surprise to hear him say this, we feel very bad. He says he is feeling sick because of the noise of the explosions. He is crying at night and cannot sleep, so my wife and I try to massage him to calm him down.
My wife is very afraid for the children. She is able to feed my five-month-old baby but it is stressful. We feel that there is no safe place; any movement outside and you could be targeted. If I go to my brother’s house, are we any safer there?
The water gets cut off when there is no electricity. I’m trying to keep reserves of water, we need to be able to sterilise things for the baby when we can.
I left the home to do some shopping during the ceasefire, to get some basics for my kids. We have just a short period of time before it starts again. It was very crowded in the streets because of the limited time. The prices were normal but there was not very much available.
I also went to check on the CARE office to see that it was OK. I want to go back to work to help support all of the vulnerable people, I am more than happy to do this but it is difficult because we cannot move without being targeted.
If this situation continues like now it will be a real crisis. We don’t know when it will finish. I am really hoping for a long-term ceasefire and that it will calm down.
It’s hard for my family, for my friends and colleagues, for all Gazans to live in this crisis. We just hope it will end soon. In six years there have been three wars. It’s difficult for all of us, but especially the children.
I ask the world, and all of the humanitarian community to try to make a ceasefire that will last for years not hours. We ask that the violence stops. We cannot continue living in this situation, but we also cannot leave Gaza.
We ask the world to make it stop and do their best for the people of Gaza. It is enough now.