Braving Danger To Bring Joy In South Sudan (Staff Interviews)
In South Sudan, WFP is distributing urgent food assistance to tens of thousands of people who have fled their homes to escape a resurgence of fighting in Jonglei State. Here are the stories of two WFP staff members who make this complex operation possible.
Allan Busiinge strides through the WFP distribution site in Pibor Town, seemingly oblivious to the sticky black cotton soil beneath his gumboots.
Busiinge is too busy to be held up by the mud. The needs of tens of thousands of people, who have been driven from their homes by a resurgence of fighting, are simply too great. Busiinge, a WFP logistics officer from Uganda, has a keen sense of the need for speed as the rainy season takes hold.
“The rain falls, the place gets flooded, then muddy, but we have to organize distributions for the people,” he said as porters hefted sacks of food and boxes of vegetable oil from the warehouse to groups of women eagerly waiting to bring supplies back to their children and relatives in the bush.
“Some of the women you see waiting have walked for days to get here … and have left hungry family members behind …we cannot delay them no matter the challenges,” Busiinge said.
Busiinge, who has worked with WFP since 2003, believes his job in Pibor Town is tough, but not the most challenging assignment he has had so far in a career that none could call run-of-the-mill.
Rewarded by smiles
In his mid-20s, as civil war raged across Sudan, Busiinge led convoys of food-laden trucks from Uganda to southern Sudan as part of Operation Lifeline Sudan
“In those days there was no telephone network here. Once you got into South Sudan your main companion was your HF radio, which you used to report your location and the status of the cargo. You would radio messages to the base, and these would be sent to your family so they knew you were alive and well.”
Busiinge was detained several times by armed groups. In 2004, a drunk soldier stopped him at a checkpoint as he led a WFP convoy of 56 trucks from Uganda to Akop in Warrap State.
“The soldier told me I was too young to be leading such a big convoy. He asked all the drivers to hand over their documents and then he locked me in a cage made of thorns. The soldiers shared fried groundnuts with us. On the last day they even slaughtered a goat and shared the barbecue with us. We were eventually released after (WFP) communicated with the commanders who confirmed that the soldier was drunk,” Busiinge remembers.
Despite such incidents, Busiinge would not change a thing.
“The day a convoy transporting food reaches a community … there is so much joy around! The women and children come out ululating, singing and dancing. That is what motivates me. Nothing beats that feeling that you have participated in helping to save lives,” he said as he bent to distribute pulses and salt to the women in Pibor town.
“Being a humanitarian is a sacrifice. It is often about abandoning the comforts of your own life, being away from your family and helping people you never imagined you would meet. The reward for me comes when I see people smiling as they leave with their rations.”
Science Teacher to Aid Worker
In the shade of a tree, a group of men listen attentively as Francis Sarpong-Kumankuma discusses ration distributions for displaced people in Labrab, a hamlet in Pibor County.
Sarpong-Kumankuma’s measured tone and attention to detail as he briefs the WFP field assistants hint at his time as a high school teacher. Today he is nearing the end of his assignment as head of WFP’s sub-office in Bor, and the Ghanaian has brought the patience and clarity he used in the classroom to his work in one of Africa’s most complex humanitarian operations.
“I initially worked as a science teacher at a high school for two years, and then I moved into my professional field as a public health nutritionist with the Government Health Services in Ghana,” he said.
As a senior manager of nutrition services at a regional health directorate in one of Ghana’s most deprived states, Sarpong-Kumankuma often worked alongside WFP staff members to provide food assistance to vulnerable women and children. He soon decided to join WFP.
In 2012 he moved to South Sudan where he was sent first to Maban County before taking up his job in Bor. He was about to move to Unity State when a resurgence in fighting between the Murle and Lou Nuer communities and renewed clashes between government forces and insurgents broke out in Jonglei, sending people fleeing into the bush.
Reaching these people is incredibly challenging, especially as the rains have started, rendering many roads impassable. Despite this, WFP has managed to get food to more than 30,000 people since it started distributions in Pibor County in late July.
The Drive to Ease Suffering
Sarpong-Kumankuma says WFP tries to get as close as possible to the needy in areas where humanitarian actors can get safe access. Setting up in remote locations can carry unique challenges, he says, recalling one particularly cold night in Dorein, the site of another distribution centre.
“In the middle of the night, we heard the horrifying cries of a troop of hyenas close to our camp site. Most of us were awake but … we had nothing with us to scare them off. We remained silent. After about 30 minutes, the hyenas went away and we all returned to sleep thanking our stars for no mishap. I felt that there were God’s guardian angels protecting us.”
Sarpong-Kumankuma accepts this kind of danger as part of his commitment to bring comfort to those in need.
“At the very bottom of (a humanitarian’s) heart is the drive to lessen the suffering of others and this is what keeps them going until there is an improved situation. I see myself as a humanitarian.”
Story by George Fominyen, WFP South Sudan