Since conflict broke out in South Sudan in December 2013 thousands have died and more than a million people have fled their homes. Nyakuoth Kuony and her family are among the many South Sudanese refugees now in Uganda, here Dora Ntunga shares Nyakuoth’s story.

Last December, Nyakuoth Kuony was living happily in Unity, South Sudan, with her husband and five children. At 27 years-old, one of Nyakuoth’s wishes was to one day visit Uganda little did she know she would soon end up there as a refugee.

Nyakuoth with her 5 children and 2 others she takes care of in Agulupi settlement. Credit: Francis Yikii/CEFORD“I was home with my whole family when fighting broke out in Unity state. My husband ran away because he heard that as a government soldier and a Nuer he was a key target for killing. He just told me to take the children and run. I felt helpless and abandoned because I did not know how and where to run with all the

As Nyakuoth was contemplating what to do, she heard heavy gun shots and realized she had no time to think. “I got my children, carried the two young ones, and we started running. When tired we walked until we got to Juba. It was one of the most difficult journeys with the children so tired and hungry.” 

Still feeling unsafe in Juba, Nyakuoth decided to take a truck toward the Uganda border. “All this time I was thinking about my husband and whether he was safe but at the same time I was bitter that he left us just like that.”

Nyakuoth is now in the refugee settlement of Agulupi, a place that will take time to adjust to she’s gone from owning a garden of food and having a decent house to relying on aid and sleeping in open air. 

Oxfam is running a cash-for-work programme for refugees like Nyakuoth. We are also providing clean water, sanitation and public health promotion in the camp. Through local partners we are helping to train and distribute tools and seedlings to the refugees and host communities to enable them to establish gardens to supplement their diet and income, beyond the emergency supplies. 

Nyakuoth enrolled in Oxfam-partner CEFORD’s cash-for-work programme in Agulupi which includes basic construction tasks like clearing access roads and digging waste pits. As newly-arrived refugees work alongside host community members, the initiative helps to minimize conflict between the different groups, and improves the infrastructure that they all share.

“I am not ready to watch my children run. Unless there is total peace I cannot go back.”The money Nyakuoth earned from working 3 hours a day helped provide a decent shelter for her family. Determined to see her children go to school like they did back home, she longed for more. “I saved up the little money and later acquired poles and grass, and erected a kiosk where I now sell merchandise like onions, sugar, salt, soap, and cooking oil.” Nyakuoth has been running her business for a month and happily boasts
of a healthy income with both refugees and nationals as her customers.

Despite the difficult situation, Nyakuoth feels her life is much better than other refugees who are relying entirely on handouts for survival. The desire to protect her children drives her because of this, she is not sure she is ready to go back home soon. “I am not ready to watch my children run. Unless there is total peace I cannot go back.” 

Nyakuoth’s is worried her kiosk is not strong enough to withstand the coming rains, but her biggest fear is the fate of her husband. “I don’t know whether he is alive or dead, I just pray for him and for the fighting to stop.”

We all wish the fighting would stop, and as Oxfam we will continue to advocate on a local, national and international level for peace building and reconciliation.

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Header image: Families in Tong Ping displaced persons settlement in South Sudan carry their newly received non food items back to where they’re staying. Credit: Anita Kattakhuzy/Oxfam

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