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As an Emergency Response Officer in South Sudan, Caroline Koromia has been leading emergency mobile teams to reach vulnerable people who have been isolated by conflict in some of the most food-insecure areas of the country since March 2014. She tells us about her recent experience in the locality of Kamel in Jonglei State.
From the air Kamel looked like uninhabited bush. Once the helicopter transporting the joint rapid response team from the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and our partners landed in the clearing that served as an airstrip, we peered through the window and noticed there were women and children who suddenly appeared. They had heard the sound of the helicopter and had come to receive us.
They were very welcoming. They showed a site where we could set up camp. A few of us started by pitching tents while the others went around identifying a place where we could construct a bathroom and dig a latrine. I will spare you the details of how we survived until the latrines were operational three days later.
Kamel, in Pigi County in Jonglei State, is one of those locations where you can clearly see the impact of the conflict that erupted at the end of last year in South Sudan. Looking around my team members and I observed that there was little or no cultivation. There were no crops or livestock. Traditionally, communities in this part of the country are cattle keepers. To see a place where there was almost none shows how much this conflict has affected people; most have fled their homes or lost their livelihoods.
Word quickly spread that humanitarian workers had come to bring food, nutrition and other assistance. It wasn’t too long before we began to see women and children, most of them looking tired and hungry coming on foot to our location. We held discussions with the local authorities and the community members to explain our work and procedures. Working with our partner Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), we registered nearly 10,000 individuals within 3 days despite constant interruptions by the rain. UNICEF, WFP and IOM jointly with the NGO partner Nile Hope screened just over 1,000 children for malnutrition.
I was really impressed by the community’s participation. They not only helped to identify a location that we could use as an air-drop zone, they volunteered people to cut the grass and help our staff mark it out. They also selected some women and men who were going to help collect the food bags and stack them in readiness for distribution. They also ensured that people were not around the zone during drops to avoid accidents.
Well, except for The Ostrich. There was an ostrich which seemed to have taken a liking for us and always came to our camp. It would come in the morning and basically escort us to the drop zone and distribution site. The problem though was that the big bird would often wander onto the drop zone just when we were expecting an airdrop. We would have to beckon it to come over and leave the area. It was not easy but for the three days during which the Ilyushin cargo planes dropped food, we had to go through the same exercise with The Ostrich.
I have to admit that I miss our friend The Ostrich. It became part of our lives. The funniest part was that it seemed to join the internally displaced people when they danced with joy after receiving food assistance.
After two weeks of us being in Kamel the place was no longer the same. Women could be seen busy cooking for their families while children played, which wasn’t the case before the food distribution. As I sat in the helicopter on our way back all the itches from mosquito bites seemed to be a distant memory. What kept ringing in my mind were the words of a woman after she had received her food: “It is because of WFP food that our children are no longer miserable.” Now isn’t that worth another round in the field?
Story by Caroline Koromia, WFP South Sudan