Cecilia was working on her farm in Taban village, when fighting broke out and the distant sound of gunfire galvanized her into action.
“I didn’t know where I was running to, but I just wanted to flee so I would not be caught in a cross fire,” says Cecilia. “There was neither time to figure out what was going on nor the chance to think about where I was headed.”
It was not the first time she would confront danger head on and certainly not the last. She had close encounters before, but on this day, something was different. The gunfire did not stop. With each passing minute, it seemed to draw closer.
She rushed home to fetch her four children who by now were in hiding. She found them safe but for how long? So, they grabbed all they could and ran.
Violent clashes had erupted between pro-government forces and armed opposition groups in Wau town and its neighbouring villages. The result was that hundreds were killed or injured, and tens of thousands of people forced from their homes. Like Cecilia, many sought refuge in church compounds, where aid agencies provided free emergency assistance.
I met Cecilia and her children at the Roman Catholic Cathedral which she now calls home. They have sought spiritual sanctuary in these holy grounds before but now they come for shelter. The centre is bustling with people. It’s the largest in Wau and home to about 18 000 people. A year and half since she left her home, Cecilia has not returned to her village.
Tears swell in her eyes as she recounts how she ended up here but are soon replaced with a smile when she explains how she was helped to meet her family’s daily needs.
Since July 2016, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners have distributed food and nutrition supplements to displaced people in need, made possible due to vital funding from donors like the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department. WFP provides monthly rations of cereals, pulses, vegetable oil, and salt. In addition, children under five years, and pregnant and lactating women receive supplementary nutritious food to prevent malnutrition.
“My husband was killed in the conflict,” says Cecilia. “I hear armed men patrol the area and I don’t feel it’s safe to return.”
Single women often become victims of gender-based violence upon their return home.
“We are grateful to the support we have received from partners such as the European Commission which has allowed us to provide vital support to those in desperate need” said Adnan Khan, WFP country director in South Sudan. “Food insecurity has far-reaching consequences for the most vulnerable, particularly women and children.”