Seventeen years of civil war has taken its toll on the Sudanese people, not least on women and children. Victor Lugala reports on the fates of a few widowed women in southern Sudan's war zone.
Yambio, southern Sudan, March, 2000
War like AIDS is taking a toll on human life. In its wake orphans are either left to fend for themselves, or if they are lucky, they will be taken care of by the widowed mother. A widow's responsibility as a household head is no easy task as Alice Michael Kombo who lives in Yambio, south Sudan, narrates her ordeal:
"My four children woke up as usual to help me bake bread for sale. Little did I know what was to befall me that fateful morning. As I was preparing to go to Yambio market, I received a morning caller, who was hesitant at first to break the bad news.
No sooner had the visitor opened his mouth to tell me the news than I had already guessed what he had in store for me. The visitor told me that my husband was killed in cross-fire between the GoS troops and SPLA at Ngangala between Torit and Juba on the 15 September 1998. News of death had become common in Yambio since 1990 when the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) took over the town from the Government of Sudan (GoS). It was also the year my husband joined the Liberation Movement.
I fainted, in fact I did not know what transpired until I regained consciousness the next day. I was confused for I did not know, how I was to cater for our four children, plus the one I was about to deliver. Life became unbearable and even now I have not recovered from the dilemma of losing someone I loved, and the only person I and the children depended upon.
The hut (tukul) I live in was built by my husband four months before his death, unfortunately he did not have enough time to complete it for he was recalled back to duty. He had promised to take a leave so that he could come back home to finish it. For the last two years we have been living in it the way he left.
Worst still I do not even have energy to complete the already collapsing tukul, which has been leaking ever since my husband's death. I store everything in this house. I sleep inside here with my children, other dependants and my chicken too.
I have a big land to cultivate but I don't have anybody to assist me because my children are still young. In our Zande culture, it is the man who does the building and the cultivation. My only brother who could have assisted me is in the Liberation Movement and his arm has already been amputated. I will have to wait for my children to grow up so that they can help in cultivation.
My in-laws who are supposed to help me are nowhere to be seen. They did not even try to come to console me during that difficult time of mourning.
In fact, when my husband was alive we had blankets to cover ourselves but now my children are even naked. This has affected my children very much. They sometimes suffer from colds and pneumonia because of lack of blankets or sheets to cover themselves. When they get sick, I look for alternatives since I can not afford medical fee. I do gather some herbs from the bush, pound them, boil and squeeze on the back of the sick child. Miraculously my children do get well.
It has been really difficult for me to buy shoes for my children though I am a member of the ECS Yambio Mothers Union, where I use to be a tea maker but left due to psychological problems. Sometimes I get soap from Mothers Union. I pity my children like when they get infected with jiggers.
The only business I can do now is make and sell bread. This is the only business women can manage in yambio at this time of the war. When the suppliers become many the buyers diminish. That is why I had to leave the business temporarily to engage occasionally in church activities.
The meager income from the sale of bread is what I use for paying the children's school fees. Since I do not have anybody to assist me I have decided to struggle for my children despite all the odds. I have to face the reality of life."
Widow throws herself into burning house
Atar, southern Sudan, March 2000
The 17-year-old civil war in the Sudan has not only widowed women but the trauma caused after the death of a spouse has led to hopelessness and depression. Not to say the least, some widows who see the end of the road after a husband's death have either indulged themselves in escapist vices or worse, committed suicide.
On February 16 some militia allied to the government of Sudan attacked Atar village in Khor Fulus county, south of Malakal. In the ensuing battle, civilians scurried in all directions to take cover. One of the civilians, Thon Agor, was killed in the crossfire.
When the militia were repulsed by the SPLA on the ground, the villagers were left to mourn their dead. However for fear of immediate shock, the villagers delayed to break the sad news to Agor's wife. The following day she was told the news. For her it was like the end of the world. As soon as her husband was buried, she quietly made up her mind that she should follow him on the long journey of no return.
In broad daylight she set fire to her grass-thatched house. And when the roof was about to cave in, she threw herself into the inferno. Luckily enough, neighbors who rushed to put out the fire rescued her, after sustaining serious burns.
Late last year, another woman named Nyandeng Tiop from the same village hanged herself to death, after her brother and uncle were killed in a tribal clash.
Victor Lugala is the press offcier with New Sudan Council of Churches. NSCC is one of several ACT members doing extensive relief work in many parts of Sudan including North and South Barh al Ghazal, Upper Nile and Blue Nile Provinces.
Currently ACT is appealing for more than US $ 5 million for relief operations in Sudan.
For further information please contact:
Nils Carstensen (mobile ++ 41 79 358 3171).
ACT Web Site address: http://www.act-intl.org
ACT is a worldwide network of churches and related agencies meeting human need through coordinated emergency response.
The ACT Coordinating Office is based with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Switzerland.