Making a difference in South Sudan: Ensuring those in need are not forgotten

Oxfam emergency team leader Cecilia shares her experiences delivering humanitarian aid on the front line in South Sudan. "If we don’t make sacrifices, who will?"

I’ve seen a lot in my job. As an emergency responder, I am usually close to the front line and the people who have fled from it.

I have seen people shot as they collect drinking water from a river and people giving every last drop of energy to save others. I saw the country start to climb to its feet after independence in 2011 and I’ve seen it torn apart by conflict since 2013. I’ve seen the best and worst of the people of South Sudan.

I’ve been doing this job for 8 years – moving from place to place usually every three months – so I have seen more than most.

In this conflict, in which everything often seems out of the control of us ordinary citizens, it is a rare feeling to know that you can have large and positive impact. But I have that. I lead a big team of people with even bigger hearts wherever I go: water engineers, latrine builders, health promoters, teacher trainers and community protection specialists.

Together, we help save lives and keep people going.

Women carrying water in buckets that they have collected in Buong, South Sudan. Credit: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

Women carrying water in buckets that they have collected in Buong, South Sudan. Credit: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

We’ve just come back from two remote villages called Buong and Weichjol, where thousands of people arrived after fighting came to their towns last year. When our team arrived, the needs were huge.

There was no clean running water, so people were drinking and washing with swamp water. Diseases had spread and with few medical facilities in the town, things were quickly getting worse.

My team drilled new water points and repaired broken ones. We showed people how to treat and prevent eye infections that were by then endemic in the town – and which would cause blindness if untreated. We helped people pay for their loved ones to travel to a health clinic if their sickness was life-threatening. We trained teachers to make sure all those newly arrived children don’t lose their education as well as their homes.

We made a difference.

Malakal used to be South Sudan’s second largest city, but now resembles a ghost town as thousands of people have fled the violence there. Credit: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Malakal used to be South Sudan’s second largest city, but now resembles a ghost town as thousands of people have fled the violence there. Credit: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Being there to help my country people can be so rewarding of course, but this role has also brought some of the worst experiences of my life. In 2014, I was working in a camp in Malakal when heavy fighting broke out in the town. We could not go outside for days because the fighting was so heavy. We just sheltered, unable to reach our food stocks and, worse, unable to help.

Sometimes I wish we could stay to see the long-term results of our work. but that is the nature of the job. We act quickly and then have to move on.

There is always another emergency we must respond to.

Before we go though, I make sure the needs of the people in each place are heard and that the organizations that will continue our work know exactly what they must do.

We do most of our work in very remote areas – sometimes in the middle of swamps, sometimes between front lines, sometimes virtually out in the bush.

I see it as my duty to make sure they are not forgotten.

Oxfam and our partners are working across South Sudan to provide life-saving clean water and promote awareness of the key ways in which disease can be stopped from spreading.

Ongoing projects include drilling and repairing boreholes, digging latrines and training health promoters to lead on disease prevention in their communities, wherever they go.

The work of Cecilia’s emergency response team is carried out with the support of European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

This entry posted by Cecilia Kiden, on 11 May 2018. Cecilia is team leader in Oxfam's roving Emergency Preparedness & Response team in South Sudan. Her team travels around South Sudan responding to the most urgent water, sanitation and education needs and helping to keep people safe from disease, malnutrition and violence. She has worked for Oxfam since 2011, starting out as a Public Health Promotion Assistant, before working her way to her current position.

Top photo: Cecilia and Gatkuoth work on a borehole repair in Buong camp, South Sudan. Credit: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

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