South Sudan: Displaced women turn to self-help projects
Amid an ongoing crisis and continuing financial hardships, women from Bentiu have turned to income-generating projects
A decade-long crisis in South Sudan has pushed women living in camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Bentiu, Unity State, to seek alternative ways of survival.
Most women and their families were displaced by floods four years ago that wiped out their villages and destroyed their livelihoods. Others were displaced when fighting between government forces and fighters loyal to the current vice president Riek Machar erupted a year after South Sudan gained independence in 2011.
"We thought that once the war was over, life would return to normal and be good," Angelina Nyataba Manyuong, one of the women who receive support from the International Rescue Committee (IRC), told DW. "We now have another war against the floods that displaced us and destroyed our villages."
"When we lived in the village, we had cattle and goats and were able to take our children to school. But everything is now gone, and IRC has helped us rebuild our lives," she added.
NGOs, like the IRC and other aid agencies, support women in Bentiu by helping them form groups and teaching them life skills, such as knitting and setting up market stalls and restaurants. With the income generated from products and savings, the women can care for their families.
"Since we started saving, life has improved because it is done collectively. When I borrow from the group, I can make a profit from the goods bought and sold," Manyuong said.
"Before, life was difficult because of the trauma. We never went to the bush to fetch firewood because one could get raped."
'We want to live normal lives'
In an interview with DW, Angelina Nyataba Manyuong said that women in South Sudan face many challenges, like social and economic disempowerment.
"Since the crisis, women's lives have been difficult. Many women lost husbands and children that would have supported them," Manyuong said.
"But with support from the IRC, we have been able to start projects that have transformed our lives. We want to live normal lives."
Manyuong is among a group of women whom the International Rescue Committee (IRC) supports with loans and startup capital to boost their capacities to sustain and improve their livelihoods.
She received skitting skills and has been able to train other women at a small fee of 1,000 South Sudanese pounds (around €1.50).
"I knit table mats and bedsheets, and with the income, I order plastic containers [tiffin boxes] from Juba and sell them here in Bentiu at a profit which helps me repay the loan and pay school fees for my children."
Besides the income from the sales, Manyuong and the other women in the IDP camp save 1,000 SSP monthly and will later have the option of borrowing funds to start small businesses.
Abandoned but resilient
Elizabeth Nyatuak's husband eloped with another woman to Khartoum, leaving the 32-year-old with their three children in the camp. But with IRC's support, she has now learned how to knit.
"Since my husband abandoned me, IRC has given me the skills to survive and earn a living. Now I can take care of my family, including my mother-in-law, who currently stays with me," Nyatuak told DW.
"I'm not happy I have to go through this alone, but I have no option. My husband told me that he did not like life in IDP, and every time I call him on the telephone where he is, he tells me not to bother him anymore."
Nyatuak's husband married her without her family's consent and later abandoned her with their children with nothing to eat — which frustrates her even more.
She plans to remarry once an appropriate suitor comes along.
"As you can see, I'm still young and fresh," Nyatuak mused. "I will look for another husband to support me and my children."
Besides supporting women like Manyuong and Nyatuak, the IRC also helps communities recover from shocks by restoring their lives from "harm to home" through skills training and providing loans, among other services.
Caroline Nakidde Sekyewa, the IRC's country director, told DW that South Sudan needs "a recovery and development approach" to deal with its citizens' challenges.
"IRC is working closely with the government and looking at durable solutions in order to invest in infrastructure, systems that work, and skills strengthening for the development of South Sudan," Sekyewa said.
As people settle back home, they need more opportunities to rebuild their livelihoods. Still, the basics — like schools, water, sanitation, and employment opportunities — need to be in place as a foundation to grow and start businesses.
Psychosocial support activities, like sewing and beadwork, help the women to take their minds off what they have been through, and it's a way of engaging the men so that the women can help with family expenses.
A plea for peace
"Women in Bentiu need a good life and future for their children," Nyatuak said. "We ask those involved in peace negotiations to speed up so we can return to our villages."
Since fighting between different warring factions broke out in 2014, women have been left on the peripherals of society. Manyuong explained that what happened in South Sudan is difficult to comprehend.
"However, many of us are getting socio-psycho support, which keeps us going," she said. "In addition, we are getting loans to enable us to establish businesses."
Despite high oil prices boosting South Sudan's GDP, the North African country still faces significant economic challenges caused by its civil war, the IRC said.
Oil exports make up 95% of the nation's exports, but exports decreased from 350,000 barrels daily in 2013 to 150,000 in 2022.
In addition, the country's currency lost 60% of its value between the summer of 2021 and the fall of 2022, significantly reducing South Sudan's purchasing power, the IRC concluded.