Despite Civil War, 15-Year Old from South Sudan Dreams of Working in Agriculture

Friday, November 7, 2014

South SudanBefore war broke out, young woman attended school, lived on farm with family

After witnessing senseless violence in her home country of South Sudan, 15-year old Mary Athiens is even more determined to succeed in her goals and dreams.

“I was supposed to be in school right now,” she says. “The war made me stop, but I will continue one day.”

Unlike many young women in her country, Mary has always attended school. The war may have interrupted her schooling, but she has dreams of where her education will take her that the war can’t kill.

“I want to be an agriculturalist,” she says. “There is nowhere in the world you can go or work without food.”

But the violence that swept through South Sudan beginning in December has forced her to put her dreams on hold.

The rebel forces of former South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar entered Mary’s city of Bor in Jonglei state in December, terrorizing the townspeople and shooting wildly in the middle of the night.

“I was asleep in my bed,” she says. “I woke up to gunfire, and my mother hurrying to wake my little sister.”

Still in a daze, they ran through the darkness to the river.

“We ran only with the clothes we had on our backs,” says her mother, Deborah. “There was no time to pack any clothes or food.”

From the river, they managed to get on a boat and set sail for Juba. It was a treacherous two-day long journey in the hot sun, with no food and only dirty river water to drink.

But when they reached Juba, they still didn’t feel safe. So they walked for days to Budi County, a part of the country known for being a safe and peaceful area.

Mary and Deborah’s family is Dinka. When they arrived in Budi, they overheard someone speaking Dinka in the marketplace.

“I asked them if I could stay with them until God helps me,” says Deborah.

Back in Bor, the family herded cattle.  “We had a herd of 50 strong cattle, and grew sorghum, maize, and cattle,” she says.

They suspect their cattle has now been taken by rebel forces.

“To earn our living now, we do things like sweeping, washing clothes, and cooking,” says Deborah. “Then at least the children can get some extra corn maize (posho) to eat.”

Together with ADRA Canada, and with support of Presbyterian World Service & Development, the United Church, and Mennonite Central Committee, Canadian Foodgrains Bank is helping Deborah and Mary by bringing in food from the neighbouring country of Uganda.

The beans, maize flour and salt they will receive can’t change their situation, but it can help tide them over until they can go home.

Both mother and daughter are uncomfortable accepting outside help. Despite the problems their country has known over the years, this is the first time they have been forced to accept international aid in order to survive.

“I miss my family and friends back in Jonglei,” says Mary. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

–Amanda Thorsteinsson, Communications Officer