Displaced by Conflict and Floods, South Sudanese Struggle to Meet Life’s Huddles

Years of conflict in South Sudan, floods resulting from climate change and now crisis in the neighborhood could provide a recite for livelihood decimation but resilient community members are finding a way out.
Nyayuop Kai Lam sells charcoal and firewood to cater for her grandchildren. Photo by Lieth Nyak Jock in Bentiu.

By Lieth Nyak Jock

Years of conflict in South Sudan, floods resulting from climate change and now crisis in the neighbourhood could provide a recite for livelihood decimation but resilient community members are finding a way out.

Looking at the lives of Nyayuop Kai Lam and Nyariaka Bol Tuoy, two South Sudanese who are keeping their livelihoods healthy despite tough living conditions,  one realises that they are driven by taking simple opportunities, commitments, humility and respect.

The two are breadwinners who believe in duty with a smile and have kept their families happy.

When Nyayuop Kai Lam fled the crisis in neighboring Sudan in May 2023, little did she know life would be equally tough in her home country.

After years of crisis in her home in Unity State, floods simply made it worst by further displacing already impoverished people.

Holed up in Bentiu, Lam found solace in small businesses to feed herself and eight grandchildren she returned home with.

The children’s father is locked out by the crisis in Sudan.

Lam ventured into firewood and charcoal sales, now earning her family a meal everyday.

Reeds being sold in Bentiu.  Photo by Lieth Nyak Jock.

“When we ran short of food and people spent three months without food, I decided to start a business,” Lam told The Dawn in an interview in Bentiu.

“I said these children will die in my hands while their father is still away. And I can’t let the children of my son die while I’m not old enough,” Lam who claims to be in her 50s said. 

“This business helps me with a small profit. I buy one sack for 5,000 SSP, and when I sell it, I get 2,000, which I will use to buy fish for the children.”

Like Lam, Nyariaka Bol Tuoy is also facing displacement in Bentiu, but from floods that has ravaged parts of South Sudan for the last four years.

Having lost her way of life including her farms and livestock, Tuoy turn to the floods itself for survival. She scours the farmlands and harvest wild growing reeds to sell to displaced people who want to set up shelter in their new environs.

“I decided to do this business because of the national crisis, people were displaced from their homes by the catastrophic flooding,” the 40 year old told The Dawn.

“This is just for survival. I have been working on the reed cutting for three years. I cut the reeds in the deep water and pull them out,” she said.

“When we were in our homes, we cultivated and produced our own food. When people are displaced by flooding, there is no place to cultivate. We came to town, and there is no food for the children. It is better to force yourself to go to the river; if you bring those grasses, you can use them for something small for the children’s survival.”

Their understanding of the situations facing them and using them for opportunities, especially with the peaceful environment in South Sudan, with security and safe movement around has worked to make them self reliant in difficult situation. 

Respect to thier clients,  according to them has helped them focus on their lives well.

This brings to mind a traditional concept used in China which greatly foster development, the Guanxi.

China has a growing middle class, which is fuelling the nation’s appetite for consumer goods.

The Chinese are pragmatic and have an incredibly strong work ethic. People are extremely willing to work long hours and devote themselves to their businesses. Thrift is paramount and high productivity and profitability are championed – as is the efficient use of resources.

The English translation of the Guanxi is “relationship” or “connections”, but that does not capture its rich meaning in Chinese, which denotes the interpersonal links and reciprocal obligations that come from one’s social network. Developing a strong network of trusted partners can be extremely helpful in China.

Guanxi is believed to be a major factor when it comes to being successful in China. Those personal questions about your family and children, or how you’re doing is very important for trust.

In Bentiu, Tuoy is uptick on his work and vowed to keep collecting reeds for survival as long as the floods persist. “If the water dries up, we can definitely go back home, although there are no cattle,” she said.

And for Lam, she encourages people to engage their energies in income generating activities. “If there are people who are energetic enough to do business, I encourage them to do business,” Lam said.

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