Stories From Women

South Sudan

Yar | Amina | Ananaya | Elizabeth | Mary | Mary Lith

Yar's Story

20-year old Hellena Yar Maguen has been with Women for Women International- South Sudan since 2007. She is a successful participant on the CIFI farm, farming six plots of land and earning enough to support herself and her family, all despite paralysis in her right hand. She is one of WfWI-Sudan’s best success stories, and living proof that one’s abilities are not only skin-deep.

According to Western standards she would be considered just a young girl, but at age 20 Hellena Yar Maguen is already the mother of a 4-month baby boy, Makur, and the sole bread-winner for her family of three. Yar has never known life outside her grass thatched, mud-walled house in her father’s homestead, two kilometers from Pacong town in South Sudan. She laughs when she says she’s never been farther than the two-kilometer walk necessary to fetch water.

When she was two years old, Yar contracted polio leaving her right hand paralyzed. Only her left hand is functional. Yet Yar works daily on Women for Women International-Sudan’s communal farm, maintaining six plots of land and earning $175 each month. She dazzles all who meet her with her light and jovial attitude and has earned the utmost respect from her fellow participants in the Women for Women International-Sudan (WfWI-Sudan) program as one of the top earners in the Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative, or CIFI farm.

Yar joined WfWI-Sudan in 2007 and excelled as one of the program’s top students. She began working on the farm when it opened in 2008, cultivating kale, cowpeas, and okra. Not only has Yar earned the respect of her fellow women, but also that of her husband, Majok, who seems to be an anomaly in this community where women are traditionally treated as property by their husbands. Yar is Majok’s only wife, which is unusual in her Dinka community where most men take many wives. They have a very happy marriage. When Yar is unable to attend to her plots, Majok is always at hand to help. And when she must go to the farm to work, Majok will take on the responsibility of caring for their 4-month old son.

In the spring of 2008, Women for Women International launched its first Commercial Integrated Farming initiative. The CIFI program will train 3,000 women over the course of its first three years of operation in how to use sustainable farming practices to grow crops that can be sold for profit in the local market, as well as feed their families. Already, the program has proven to be a great success. As of January 2009, 1020 women were benefiting from the CIFI training. On average, the women of CIFI-Sudan are making twice the average per capita income in Sudan, an overwhelming statistic - especially among women. The farm has also contributed to building community in a region that has been wrought with tribal violence in the last decade. Sudan is spatially the largest country in Africa, yet its population is one of the most disbursed, its households often separated by a mile or more. But the CIFI farm serves as a central meeting point for the thousand or more women who work there, building community and relationships that cross tribal and spatial boundaries.

Yar is one of the many success stories from CIFI-Sudan, but hers is perhaps most remarkable given her physical disability. But Yar is living proof that her disability is not an inability. With the money she earns, Yar is able to provide for her family as well as put some away into a bank account. She hopes to secure a small loan to start her own business in the future and to see Makur receive a good education. She has dreams of building a permanent home for herself, Majok and baby Makur away from her father’s settlement.  Yar’s hard work and determination, and the support from her family and community, will make these dreams come true. 

 

Amina's Story

All around her at the refugee camp the tents were sunken into the mud. There were beds for a lucky few, but most people laid mattresses on the ground at night. Some slept standing up. As Amina explained, “some of us sleep on these beds as others stand and we go back and forth. Some of us just find a dry piece of land regardless of where in the camp, [others] sit on the ground and try to sleep sitting.”

“People don’t want to see us,” said Amina, a teenaged mother of two. “Do you see these barbed wires surrounding us? We feel like we are in a cage. We tried to write people. We tried to tell them about our circumstances. We wrote government officials, UN officials, we wrote NGOs, we wrote whoever we knew hoping that someone… anyone can come, can see what we are going through and can save us from this Hell.”

 

Ananaya's Story

Fearful of living a life in war and conflict in Sudan, Ananaya tried to flee to neighboring Ethiopia. It was a dangerous trek. One day, Ananaya found herself in the midst of an ambush by rebel groups. She hid in the bush, but she saw one woman from her group lying dead on the ground. The trauma still haunts her with many other new traumas. On the trek back to her home in Sudan, Ananaya and her young daughter were separated for three days. She thought she had lost her little girl. It was too much to bear, especially after she had delivered a stillborn baby only weeks before. She wishes for change. “ We want things to improve to enjoy peace.”

 

Elizabeth's Story

Elizabeth had been recently married when the war broke out. She and her husband had only lived together for a month when he was sent to fight on the front line. Elizabeth was left alone, already pregnant. One day, she heard that her husband was wounded. “I was pregnant at the time, and my baby died,” said Elizabeth, a frail woman who was overtaken with grief. “Our health can talk” about the condition of our lives, she said.

 

Mary's Story

Living amidst a war between the Dinka and Nuer tribes, Mary witnessed carnage and horrors. “They came at night, surrounded the cattle camp and shot everyone—even women and children. If women were still alive, they raped them; they even violated dead female bodies,” she recounted. “We have never had a good time since we were born, now we are mothers and life is not easy for women.”

Unlike the other members of her group, Mary did not flee to Ethiopia when the war broke out. She stayed in Akut the entire time. Like most girls in the South, Mary grew up in a cattle camp where soldiers would periodically stop to rest before returning to the battlefront. Girls in her community were tasked with carrying the soldiers’ luggage and ammunition to their next station. It was a harsh experience, Mary recalled. The girls were permitted to rest only when the soldiers allowed them to do so; otherwise they risked being beaten.

The soldiers would also “ask” the girls to sleep with them. There was no way to refuse, she remembered.

 

Mary Lith's Story

Mary Lith is 36 years old and has been in the groundnut business since July 2010. She joined WfWI's program in February 2009 where she learned agricultural and business skills through CIFI training. Prior to the training, Mary produced groundnuts as a source of food for her family because her "husband did not provide for them." Mary now produces groundnuts for food and sale in Rumbek, as well as other profitable markets such as Waa and Juba.

As Mary's business grew, she saw an opportunity to invest in cattle. She first bought an inexpensive older cow for approximately $200 which she slaughtered for meat to sell. Mary then invested those profits in a lactating cow that produces 4 to 6 liters of milk a day in the wet season. Mary keeps some milk for her children and sells the rest. Cow's milk is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, providing great nutritional benefit for growing children and pregnant women. Mary does all the milking and tends to the cow's veterinary care. Soon she will breed this cow and sell its calf to invest in more cows.

As Mary's business grew, she saw an opportunity to invest in cattle. She first bought an inexpensive older cow for approximately $200 which she slaughtered for meat to sell. Mary then invested those profits in a lactating cow that produces 4 to 6 liters of milk a day in the wet season. Mary keeps some milk for her children and sells the rest. Cow's milk is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, providing great nutritional benefit for growing children and pregnant women. Mary does all the milking and tends to the cow's veterinary care. Soon she will breed this cow and sell its calf to invest in more cows.

When asked about running her small business, Mary said: "Learning skills is a gift. I have been given a precious gift from Women for Women that has helped me earn an income and provide nutrition for my family. This is the best gift I have ever received."

 
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