Arothi returned from the bush on Friday. She, along with her six children, had been hiding there for almost two days.
Her husband was killed by the marauding cattle-rustlers – mostly armed youths from the Lou Nuer tribe.
Arothi walked for 2 hours from the bush to Gumuruk where child rights organisation Plan International was distributing food to displaced villagers.
Arothi is among scores of women who have been widowed in the violent clashes between Murle and Lou Nuer tribes in the strife-torn Jonglei state of South Sudan. The conflict has created a humanitarian crisis where thousands are struggling for food and have no clean drinking water or shelter.
The survivors are recounting harrowing tales of suffering. “On the fateful night, we heard the Lou Nuer attackers were coming to take our cattle away. We took refuge in the bush along with our cattle. My children and I hid in the thicket as my husband drove the cattle,” said Arothi.
“Soon we heard some gun shots and I knew that they were shooting at the men. My husband was among those who were shot dead but I had no idea that he had been killed. We saw the attackers returning with the cows, but we remained under the cover of shrubs.”
“We were frightened and stayed in bush for the whole night and came out the following day in the afternoon. My children started crying and some of the men who survived the attack came back to check on us. I was then summoned by the elders. At that point I knew something was wrong – I started crying even before they broke the news. They told me my husband was killed and they had already buried him.”
Arothi, in her 40s, is now relying on the relief food items supplied by Plan, hoping that it will keep her and her children alive. “I managed to come to Gumuruk with only three of my six children because the rest were sick and had to remain in the bush. My children need food before they die of hunger. I am really concerned about their sickness,” she said.
Plan is one of the first international organisations to respond to the crisis. In partnership with the World Food Programme, Plan is distributing cereals, beans and other food items to the homeless - mostly women and children. So far the organisation has already reached 50,000 people. Additionally, it is preparing to deliver water and hygiene kits as well as fishing tools to 5000 households and seeds to 1000 households.
Aid agencies are facing a big challenge in reaching out to all people in need given the overwhelming scale of people affected by the violence and logistical difficulties in transportation and distribution of food relief.
Like Arothi, Adikira, a mother of three from Manyat Village also fled to Gumuruk when her village came under attack from the Lou Nuer tribe members.
“We owned 300 cattle and depended on them for milk. In addition to our cattle, the attackers looted everything: blankets, clothes and the little food we had,” she said.
“Our children have nothing to sleep on. My second child wakes up and cries at night because we don't have any blankets to cover him with. We need food items like sorghum, pulses, vegetable oil, salt and sugar.
“We heard that Plan was registering people so that they can receive food aid. That is why we are here waiting to be registered so that we can also get some food for our children,” said Adikira.
Plan is trying to reach as many at-risk people as possible, especially children. “In addition to the physical needs like water and food, providing emotional first aid for young people is a key requirement,” said Fikru Abebe, Plan's Country Director in South Sudan.
“We are also implementing programmes to keep children safe and help them continue their education during this time of upheaval,” he added