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Voices of hope from South Sudan: Standing firm

By Oxfam
Monica Samuel by Mackenzie Knowles Coursin.jpg

“We could not stand aside and let anything happen to Abraham and his family.”

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 another story of everyday courage, shared with Oxfam by Monica Samuel, age 32.

I remember my sister Jekudu running frantically into the house. She stopped abruptly and attempted to talk but her words were interrupted by her need for air. Each sentence was punctuated with pauses. Someone was in trouble in the neighborhood.

“I was just at Cousin Peter’s house. There is a man there in trouble. They want to arrest him because he is Nuer,” she said. “He was trying to leave with his family when a group of soldiers went to the house and are now trying to arrest him for no reason.”

The man was called Abraham. He was a young Nuer man with a wife and two children. They had sought refuge in a neighbor’s house after leaving their own in search of safety. While hiding there, four local policemen knocked on the door and demanded that Abraham leave with them.

But how did they know he was there? I asked.

“The neighbor that offered her house got scared. She is a Dinka lady and was convinced that if anyone found out that she was protecting a Nuer family, she would be in danger and her children would get hurt. She called the police to come and get him,” Jekudu said.

But why didn’t she just ask them to leave? I asked, perplexed.

“That’s what we’re all wondering,” she said, visibly annoyed.

“Peter and I heard the commotion in the compound of the house next door and went to find out what was going on. We found four policemen trying to arrest a man. We knew he was Nuer from the marks on his face,” she continued. “His wife and two children were there with him as well. He was refusing to leave with the soldiers.”

My cousin Peter is a senior official in the military and commands a lot of respect wherever he goes. He is a tall well-built man and when he speaks, people listen.

“What is going on here?” Peter asked. “Leave this man alone, he does not want to go with you.”

They argued for a few minutes and the men finally decided to leave. I am sure it’s because they realized he was in the military and that came with firepower when necessary. Not more than 20 minutes later, the four policemen came back but with an additional eight men as backup.

“We just knew we were saving innocent lives”

Peter heard the commotion and came out again to find out what was going on. Tension was rising around Abraham and use of force had been offered as an option.

“Please, there are many families here, including my wife and children. Look at all the children around, listening to this conversation. No. I will not allow myself to be the reason they are hurt or killed,” Abraham shouted.

He then turned to Peter and said, “Thank you but I would rather go. It will cause more problems if I stay here. People will get hurt. Let them take me.”

For the first time, everyone was quiet. It was like no one knew what to do. I am not sure if it was his resignation or his willingness to sacrifice himself that changed the course of events.

Whatever it was, it was enough to make the 12 men lower their weapons and leave.

When things had settled down, we all sat down in Peter’s house to discuss options for Abraham’s family. They wanted to go straight to the UN House but we all agreed that it was not safe enough to go yet. Peter offered his house for Abraham to stay, but it did not have enough room for his wife and children.

They can stay with us,  I said. And they did, for about three weeks before traveling to Torit where Constance, Abraham’s wife, now works.

Abraham stayed with Peter for about a week but with the help of his friend, Madam Angeth, who is a Dinka, he was able to get secure passage to the airport and then to Nairobi.

We are not Dinka or Nuer. We are Mundare from Central Equatorial but the wars and conflicts affect us as well. We could not stand aside and let anything happen to Abraham and his family. It might have been risky but we had no second thoughts about it. We just knew that we were saving innocent lives.

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. 

What can you do to make a difference? Help us rush life-saving food and water to families in crisis. Your one moment of action could save a life. Now is the moment to act.

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