The grim and sorry picture of the brunt of the past civil wars in South Sudan is clearly painted in the hearts and faces of most women and children who fled the country at the height of the protracted battles.
They found solace in refugee camps in the neighboring countries but bear tales of testimonies that hinge of the dark days of their lives.
These are the women of South Sudan who survived the protracted civil wars that claimed reported nearly 400,000 lives and property of unknown values.
However, after the 2016 crisis, the guns went silent and many refugees and returnees from neighboring countries and those in Protection of Civilian Sites (PoCs) started trooping in in their droves. Majority opted to return to their ancestral and indigenous lands.
Angelina Nyakam, 48, and a mother of seven, who sought refuge in Nyadiu, a village near the border with Sudan in Northern Liech State returned home after guns went silent in 2017, but things have never been the same again. She returned home a widow after her husband was killed in 2014 in Bentiu.
Nyakam was married at the age of 17; she was an orphan whose father died when she was still very young and so she was literally brought up by her single mother.
Perhaps Nyakam’s marriage to a man, Gatjiek Koang, who had also been brought up by a single parent marked the genesis of her misfortunes.
Gatjiek would later die at the hands of gunmen in Bentiu, leaving Nyakam to double up as both father and mother of their seven children.
She quickly sinks into deep old but clear memories and reflections of how the ghosts of death snatched her beloved husband – leaving her to single-handedly fend for the children.
“When I returned from Nyadiu, I met one of the soldiers in the PoC and I asked him if my husband was alive. When he looked down for about a minute without answering, I realized my husband was no more,” Nyakam recalls.
She gives a clear account of how her beloved husband died, shattering her family’s dreams.
Nyakam knows very well the monumental tasks before her now that her husband is no more.
“Life was so good and enjoyable when my husband was still alive. He provided for the family; be it food, school fees or clothes for the children and me.”
She hopes that one of her children would grow up to become an influential personality to realize her late husband’s dreams.
“One thing I will remember about him is that, he was always a very caring father and believed in his abilities,” Nyakam recalls.
“After the signing of the CPA, I thought God had answered my daily prayers to keep my husband alive – so we could enjoy life as a family and bring up our children. I did not know he would die in another civil war.”
Nyakam struggles to let go of the past memories with a clear determination to face the future with her seven children.
She appeals to the parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement to be honest and realistic in their commitments to ending the conflict.
“For now, there is nothing more we want because we have lost our dear ones,” she states.
“The government and the opposition groups should maintain the peace they signed and offer us space to bring up our children.”
Nyakam’s troubles would not end at the “Camp Four” in the PoC, because she wanted a favorable environment to bring up her children.
She says the living conditions in the compound worsened for her children as there was no clean drinking water and firewood for cooking.
Nyakam opted to relocate out of the PoC so she can access firewood in the forest, which was about a two to three hours-walk from the PoC.
“When I came back to the UN Protection of Civilians Site (PoC) I found no clean drinking water and firewood for cooking. So I moved out to stay here,” Nyakam reiterates.
Out of her seven children, only one of Nyakam’s children goes to school and she says she cannot afford to pay the school fees for the rest of the children.
“When my husband was alive, there were no such challenges; he was helpful. If I could see God, I would tell Him how my children do not go to school because death took away my husband.”
Besides affording for the family and catering for the school dues, health situation has also been one of the most pathetic scenarios affecting Nyakam and her children including the rest of the people living around Bentiu.
People in the area struggle on daily basis to get reliable medical facility given the only single hospital in the vast town of Bentiu
Former Unity State especially Bentiu experienced fierce violence since the conflict erupted in South Sudan’s Capital, Juba in 2013.
This prolonged violence has reportedly forced the civilian population to flee for safety, some hiding in the surrounding bushes, an unfriendly environments for the most vulnerable clusters of women and children.
In November last year, Doctors without borders, Medicines Sans Frontiers reported that 125 women and girls were raped in a 10- day spree of violence in Bentiu as they tried to move to food distribution centers in the area.
Every war is a disaster with a very undesirable impact on the civilians, and these detrimental influences did not spare the people of South Sudan leaving them baring scars of the five and half year skirmish.
However, efforts to implement the revitalized peace agreement and a Transitional Government are ongoing with great hope and expectations of a desired end to the five and half year civil war.
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