Women in South Sudan are resilient, empowered change-makers: they are farmers, journalists, youth leaders, teachers, poets. They support each other, their families and their communities. In a country at war, women have become the backbone of their communities.

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, read and share stories from some of the many inspiring women, who against all, are making change happen in South Sudan.

“At my age, I can’t really recall happy memories. All I can remember is the running” – Angelina Nyakil Koch – Single mother, Melut

Angelina is a pillar of strength for her family and community. Photo: Charles Lomodong/Oxfam

“When I was growing up, whenever there was conflict, we had to run. We ran many times,” says Angelina Nyakil Koch, one of millions of people who have been displaced repeatedly throughout their lives due to decades of war in South Sudan. “My mother died when I was a teenager, in between all the running, because there was no one to treat her illness. Between all the fighting, it was difficult to get her to a hospital.”

Angelina is now a single mother of five living in Melut, South Sudan. Her husband died last year, succumbing to wounds inflicted in 1993 during the war between the Sudanese government and the Sudan’s People Liberation Army, which left him disabled, and blind in one eye.

“I live each day trying to honour the hours in it. There is no need to advertise sadness, or to wear your sorrow like a mask.  It does not add anything, because you already know how you feel. It is not what is seen externally that matters, as it all passes. It’s the strength inside that counts.”

“Animals find food with one limb, so why should you, a human being, go hungry if you have both arms and legs? Whatever we are going through, it is not permanent. Change is the only thing that is certain. I am struggling, raising my children alone. I get sad sometimes, and I get lonely, but it will all pass. In life, you suffer to find something good, for yourself and for your family. I am just trying to do my part.”

Oxfam provides clean water to over 20,000 people in Melut.

“Nothing is solved by violence” – Cecilia* – Displaced in UN House, Juba.

Cecilia is one of 34,000 displaced people in the UN Compound in Juba. Photo: Stella Madete

Cecilia smiles radiantly as she recalls the laughter and hope that filled her life over a year ago.  Her children were in school, and she was working to support her family. Now, the space in the UN Compound in Juba is their playground, and she, their guardian and champion.

Cecilia was born and raised in Bentiu, Upper Nile state in South Sudan. She was expecting her third child when the crisis began in December 2013. In search of safety, Cecilia fled to the UN compound to keep her family safe. In June, she relocated to Juba and is now living in “UN House,” a camp where the UN is providing protection for displaced people.

“I had just lost a baby at the UN camp in Bentiu. While I was resting in the clinic, a young lady came up and spoke to me. She said: ‘I know you are suffering, and it is difficult, but you are not alone in this suffering. Many mothers all over the world have felt the same pain. Take courage in knowing that you will be alright.’”

“It is difficult to lose a child, and any mother who has had the misfortune of experiencing it, knows the endless pain. But I am not alone. If there is a problem in South Sudan, then there is a problem in the world, and everyone needs to keep this in mind. The world has grown smaller and we can learn from each other experiences. I now know that a woman has a voice, is equal to a man, and that we can both live in mutual respect.”

Cecilia is one of the thousands of people who have received charcoal vouchers from Oxfam at the UN House. Oxfam, with the support of the EU Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) has been providing fuel vouchers for charcoal to every single person living in the 3 internally displaced camps in the UN House for the past 13 months.

“Take heart and be strong, because your family needs you. Sooner or later, we will need all families to come together” – Josephine* – Farmer, displaced in UN House, Juba

Josephine at her shelter at the UN Compound in Juba. Photo: Stella Madete/Oxfam

Josephine has not seen or spoken to her husband since December 2013, when conflict broke out in her hometown of Bentiu, South Sudan. She was pregnant at the time and receiving medical treatment in Juba.

“In many wars, women and children have been left behind. This is happening in South Sudan, and I am sure in other parts of the world,” she says.

Josephine is now one of over 34,000 displaced people living in UN House in Juba, a sprawling camp for those displaced by the conflict, where the UN has been providing protection since December 2013. Josephine last spoke to her three children in Bentiu in January 2015.

“I want to tell women in a situation similar to mine to have courage. Take heart and be strong, because your family needs you. Take good care of your children because sooner or later, you will go home and continue protecting their future. Sooner or later, we will need all families to come together.”

Josephine  is one of the 28 people who was trained in how to make fuel efficient stoves, given toolkits for making the stoves and paid for the stoves they produced. These stoves use a third less fuel than the open fire stoves used before, save money and reduce the frequency of risks faced when people have to gather firewood outside the safety of UN House.


“I hope that I don’t continue writing about war and destruction. I want peace to come so that I can write about the experiences of individuals, who overcome troubles, meet their aspirations, their hopes and their ambitions, and enjoy their success” – Stella Gitano – Writer Juba

Stella Gitano is a renown writer in South Sudan. Photo: Andrea Campeanu/Oxfam

Stella Gitano is a published novelist, an opinion writer and a humanitarian and conflict studies student at Juba University. She moved back to South Sudan after independence, filled with patriotic spirit, to participate in building the nation.

“Before the crisis, I used to write short stories reflecting the condition of the society. I wrote about the state of education and health, people suffering and corruption, things that directly affected people. I wrote to encourage nation-building, and to emphasise that independence was not an end in itself, but only a step to realising standard of life aspired by the people.”

“Now, I write about the incident that occurred and try to address their root causes. I focus more on documenting the events that led to the crisis, to learn from them and help generations after me to understand the stages we have gone through in our struggle to build the nation, and in the future, how we were able to move past it. I document the events to reinforce the fact that it must not happen again in South Sudan.”

“Writers have a huge responsibility in nation-building as they reflect what is happening in society, try and address issues and suggest solutions. Many people read my books, and encourage me to continue bearing the torch that will bring some light in the darkness that is befalling our country.”

“The question still remains; do we have the will to overcome? Many African countries witnesas a lot of struggle and bloodshed, but in the end emerge stronger, and develop. I hope there will be reconciliation and forgiveness. I know that it is not easy to forget, as people will always remember the terrible things, but it’s possible to leave the past behind and move on.”

“I have a lot of hope that South Sudan will overcome this current situation, and will see better days ahead. This incident will become a story for children, not a renewed incident.”

Oxfam supported over 34,000 conflict affected people that fled to the UN Compound in Juba after the crisis erupted in December 2013 with clean water and access to sanitary facilities and access to fuel, food and income.

“Getting an education is my number one priority” – Rebecca Elija – 18 years old, displaced in Melut

Rebecca in Melut. Photo: Charles Lomodong/Oxfam

“I wanted to be a doctor but the crisis happened and forced us to move from our homes and postpone our dreams. An experience like this forces you to grow up. When we arrived here, I was surprised when I realised that I had to be in charge and take responsibility for myself and my family.”

Rebecca Elija was 10 years old when she last spoke to her mother. Eight years ago, Rebecca moved to South Sudan with her father and little sister, leaving the rest of the family in Khartoum, Sudan. When the conflict broke out in December 2013, the three of them fled to Melut. Although she has been in part of the displaced community in Melut for over a year, Rebecca has not lost sight of her dreams.

“I’ve made friends here and we have discussions about personal issues, but no one ever mentions the new responsibilities they have. It’s painful to bring it up because no one is really helping, no one is sending money, and it feels like nothing will change. I try and have discussions with people about the current situation and the possibility of peace, but I don’t force anyone to listen. If they want to talk, it’s good, if not, it’s alright with me too. I am always ready to laugh, to listen to a good joke or tell one.”

“I am always thinking about how peace can come and how soon it can come, so that I can go back home. Here, no one persuades you to go to school, like they did at home, but getting an education is my number one priority.”

Rebecca benefits from the clean water Oxfam provides to over 20,000 people in Melut. In addition, she is one of the many people who received fuel efficient stoves from Oxfam. These stoves use a third less fuel than the open fire stoves used before, save money and reduce the frequency of risks faced when people have to gather firewood.

“It’s also not safe to walk out of the camp to find firewood – sometimes people chase you, and threaten you.” Sophia *– Displaced in Melut

Sophia smiling at her temporary shelter in Melut. Photo: Stella Madete/Oxfam

“Life inside here is very different. Basic things like milk are not available. I have to run up and down this small space, looking for food that will sustain my child. We had a good life in Melut. There was electricity in our house; when I woke up, all I had to do was find the milk in the kitchen and boil it on the electric cooker. Here, I wake up very early, go and look for firewood, come back and prepare the fire and then prepare whatever food is available. There is not much choice in what we eat. It’s also not safe to walk out of the camp to find firewood – sometimes people chase you, and threaten you.”

Sophia has been forced to adjust her life to the reality of war.  She did not imagine that the life she had built, filled with hope for her son’s future, would be taken from her so abruptly. That she would have no choice but to leave all she knew behind in search of safety and protection within the gates of the UN compound in Melut.

“I keep my spirits high because other lives depend on me. If I am still alive, they will also live. I think differently now, because when faced with challenges in life, you have to have self control and adapt to survive. I endure the hardships and struggles now because I know we will be in a good place later.”

Sophia benefits from the clean water Oxfam provides to over 20,000 people in Melut. In addition, she is one of the many people who received fuel efficient stoves from Oxfam. These stoves use a third less fuel than the open fire stoves used before, save money and reduce the frequency of risks faced when people have to gather firewood.

“The first thing I share on the radio is the message of peace” – Mary Nyidur – Radio presenter –   Minkaman

Mary educating and entertaining her listeners in Minkaman. Photo: Andrea Campeanu/Oxfam

“Life for women in South Sudan is very hard. We are trying to connect women to stay together and speak to each other,” says Mary Nyidor, a journalist from Bor town. “If you want to become a good presenter, you have to speak to people in a good way; you have to make them laugh. Good information can bring togetherness – women, children and friends.”

“During the crisis in South Sudan, people were really affected in Bor, so they travelled to Minkaman. My role as a presenter to encourage people to come together in South Sudan. One hand cannot clap, but two hands can. If the crisis stops in South Sudan, the country will prosper.

“The first thing I share on the radio is the message of peace.”

In Awerial County, water is pumped from the Nile River alongside the Minkaman settlement and is thoroughly treated before it is pumped to water points that serve over 38,000 people settled in the camp. Oxfam is also providing badly needed food aid to over 85,000 vulnerable people in Minkaman.

“Once we eradicate illiteracy, there is more hope for us to grow and develop” – Joyce Maker – Scriptwriter Juba

Joyce hopes that South Sudanese will see each other as brothers and sisters. Photo: Andrea Campeanu/Oxfam

Joyce has been a script writer since 2012. She writes for ‘Sawa Shabaab’, an acclaimed radio drama that airs across South Sudan. The weekly episodes address issues relating to national identity, tribal conflict and gender equality, through riveting drama and comedy.

“I feel like it’s an opportunity to go deeper into the thoughts of my fellow South Sudanese. I like what I do – I like writing scripts, I like making stories, and it also gives me a chance to talk to people and get their views. I hope that one day there is going to be total peace, because we’ve been through so much, and I don’t know why we have to ruin everything at such an early stage.”

“The pen is mightier than the sword. If the youth see this in its real sense, and try to get an education, their mentality will change. Once we eradicate illiteracy, there is more hope for us to grow and develop. There is chance that we will see ourselves as brothers and sisters. The fact that we have over 60 tribes in South Sudan should be the base of our unity, not a dividing factor.”

Oxfam supported over 34,000 conflict affected people that fled to the UN Compound in Juba after the crisis erupted in December 2013 with clean water and access to sanitary facilities and access to fuel, food and income.


“Women need freedom. There can only be freedom is there is peace. I am really hoping for something to change, for peace to come, so that we can all go home” – Rhoda Ayer Achieng – Oxfam EFSL Assistant, Melut

Rhoda during a fuel efficient stove distribution. Photo: Charles Lomodong/Oxfam

“We face many challenges on a daily basis, and there is not enough help for everyone. People’s bodies, minds and spirits are in a bad state, but we have to be patient here, because the crisis will end.”

It has been over a year since Rhoda Ayer fled fighting and walked for days to lead her six children to safety in Melut.  Since then, she has learnt a lot about patience and hope.

“If there is a woman in the same circumstance like me reading this, I urge you to stay focused. Take care of yourself and your children, because things may not be great today, but they will get better.”

“Women need to be women, and to do this, women need freedom. There can only be freedom is there is peace. I am really hoping for something to change, for peace to come, so that we can all go home.”

Rhoda benefits from the clean water Oxfam provides to over 20,000 people in Melut. In addition, she distributes fuel efficient stoves from Oxfam that use a third less fuel than the open fire stoves used before, save money and reduce the frequency of risks faced when people have to gather firewood.

“Everyone looks to us for strength, even the men. We must be strong” – Nyabila Abiyel – Displaced in Melut

Nyabila outside the home she hopes is temporary. Photo: Stella Madete/Oxfam

Nyabila left Pigi County in Jonglei state with her husband and six children to find safety in Malakal. The journey should have taken one day but took two, as they travelled in the bush, trying to keep out of sight. A series of attacks on Malakal forced them to keep moving and they finally settled in Melut where they still live, over a year after the conflict began.

Adjusting to life away from home has not been easy, but Nyabila perseveres.

“At home, we had a source of income. We kept cattle, farmed and fished, and what we didn’t use, we sold. We had everything we needed. My biggest fear now is that I cannot take care of my family the way that I used to. The support we get from aid organisations helps, but still have to fend for myself. It is difficult to know where to start. I don’t know this land, and I am not familiar with the seasons here. If I was at home, I would be selling the fruits of our labour in the markets. Things were simpler then, because if you worked, you could make enough money to live a good life. It is not the same here.”

“All our resources were looted and when we go back home, we have to start again, but I don’t dwell on the loss. What is gone is gone and we will rebuild.  I am still hopeful because it’s our home, our land, and the situation will change. I just have to be patient and strong until that time comes. We discuss these issues as women in the camp and through our resolve have become pillars of strength in the community. Everyone looks to us for strength, even the men. We must be strong.”

Nyabila benefits from the clean water Oxfam provides to over 20,000 people in Melut. In addition, she is one of the many people who received fuel efficient stoves from Oxfam. These stoves use a third less fuel than the open fire stoves used before, save money and reduce the frequency of risks faced when people have to gather firewood.

“We moved from Terekeka because there wasn’t enough food. There was a lot of hunger” – Mary Ajum Amuru – Farmer in Terekeka

Mary on her cassava farm in Muguna. Photo: Stella Madete/Oxfam

Ajum has been a farmer in Muguna for three years. She moved from Liyari, in Terekeka, in search of a better life. Her family settled on a piece of land and named it Muguna, which means ‘You must sacrifice your body to work.’

“We moved from Terekeka because there wasn’t enough food. There was a lot of hunger.”

“When we moved here, we decided to call it ‘Muguna’, because we knew that we had to work extremely hard to see fruits from the land. If you want to survive, you have to sacrifice. You have to work hard for your family, and when you think of it like that, you forget about the pain you endure to do so.”

“You see my two hands? One is the woman and one is the man. Hard work is the only way out of difficulty.”

Oxfam is supporting farmers in Muguna with farming tools and seeds to ensure that there are productive gains after the rains fall.

“The time will come when we will all go home” – Aben Yadiu – Youth leader, Melut

Aben outside her temporary home in Melut. Photo: Andrea Campeanu/Oxfam

18-year-old Aben Yadiu was flourishing in school before her studies were interrupted by conflict in Bailet, Pigi County. She fled with her young daughter and family to Melut, where they have lived for over a year in a camp for those displaced by the conflict.  Aden is a youth leader at the camp.

“When you are selected as a leader, you have to think about the needs of the people you serve. It is good way to know who is coming and who is going, to make sure everyone is alright. You are expected to lead and so must look at yourself as a leader.”

“I always tell the members of the group that we need to work together, even in the situation we have found ourselves in, and live in peace, because the time will come when we will all go home.  We sing songs that remind us about our land, South Sudan, and why we need to take care of it. When we sing these songs, I remember home and long to go back.”

Aben benefits from the clean water Oxfam provides to over 20,000 people in Melut.

Oxfam has a dedicated team to respond to emergencies across South Sudan. We focus on public health, livelihoods and emergency response with gender, diversity, conflict-sensitive programming and advocacy work intertwined. We are currently supporting over 400,000 people in South Sudan.

*Not her real name

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