Voices of hope from South Sudan: A friend’s brave act

By Oxfam
Makuey Chol Bol. Photo: Mackenzie Knowles Coursin/Oxfam

“I am alive only because of him.”

Beyond the violence and hunger in South Sudan, another story is unfolding—a story of hope and humanity. It is the story of neighbors standing up for neighbors, of strangers for strangers. It’s the story of people like 19-year-old Deng Makwach, who saw a gun trained on an elderly man—someone he had never met—and jumped to action, challenging the gunman to stop or shoot Makwach instead. In that act of courage and selflessness, one of countless like it, lies hope and the future of South Sudan.

One moment of action, one life saved.

Below is one of these stories of everyday courage from South Sudan, shared with Oxfam by Makuey Chul Bol, age 31.

I was surprised that fighting broke out, but I didn’t give much thought to it because I was all the way in Uror and assumed it would end in a few days.

I then heard about the killings in Okobo and realized that this was worse than we thought. I am a businessman in Uror county, Jonglei state. It is a Nuer area and I felt that I might be in danger. I was the only Dinka doing business and living there, and people knew me.

I talked to my friend Malakan and decided it would be best if I got out of sight in case anything happened. He was not in that much danger because he is a Nuer. We have known each other for two years.

Malakan told me that I should hide in his house for the time being. I didn’t go back to my house or worry about the profit I was going to make. I listened to him and went straight to his house.

While I was there, people came knocking on the door asking Malakan where I was. He told them that I had left and was no longer near the area. Clearly they did not believe him because they kept coming back and asking the same questions. Luckily, they did not storm into the house looking for me out of respect for Malakan. He even told his wife and children not to tell anyone that I was in his house and told them to lie in case anyone asked where I was.

“I would rather fight and die for you than stand by and watch them take and kill you.”

I was very grateful for what Malakan was doing to keep me alive but one thing worried me. What would happen if the men looking for me got tired of listening to and believing Malakan? They would storm into the house. This was the worst scenario because Malakan and his family would be hurt or worse, killed, because of me.

I know my friend very well and although he is strong, they were more and they would overpower and kill him. I was afraid that he was risking too much and did not want him to die because of me.

I voiced my concern to him and he said, “I would rather fight and die for you than stand by and watch them take and kill you.”

On the sixth day, Malakan came and told me that they had looted my house and property and I had lost all the sorghum I was going to sell. He also said that he was getting worried because the men had intensified their searches and were lurking around the windows, listening to his conversations and also surveilling his house at night.

We discussed it and came to the conclusion that it was only a matter of time before they spotted me and then everything would end. Not only my life, but Malakan and his family would be in danger too. I could not risk his life and his family anymore. I had to leave. Malakan insisted on coming with me to ensure my safety.

That night, I said goodbye and thank you to his family and Malakan and I snuck out of his house at 9 pm. We walked for 13 hours straight from Uror to Duk. Malakan did not leave my side until we were close to Duk, an area populated with Dinka. We stopped and I thanked him for saving my life. I could not thank him enough. He began his journey back home.

I have not spoken to him yet, but I know that he is alright.

I am alive only because of him.

Millions in South Sudan are caught in a rapid spiral downward toward acute hunger and malnutrition, prevented by the violence from planting and harvesting their crops. 

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