A modern day hero
He’s not Superman, but in his own way Benard Nyataya is a modern day hero.
Benard is a World Vision emergency responder, delivering food in South Sudan’s most dangerous places - places most people wouldn’t dare enter.
Benard shares the challenges and risks he faces in order to deliver aid to South Sudan’s most vulnerable people. Risks which include armed attacks, lions and crocodile-infested rivers…
"The toughest part of the work is in managing the risks: for the people we serve, our staff and the aid we handle. Complexities of South Sudan’s conflict mean that community clashes can erupt any time without any warning.
One time, when deployed to distribute food in Nassir County - a part of Upper Nile State - we woke in the early morning hours to an armed attack in the community.
The sound of rapid gunfire, explosions at close range, counter attacks, women wailing, children crying, and domestic animals running for dear life is just one of the countless memories that are tough to forget.
Lions and crocodiles
With the recent drought across East Africa, cases of wild animals straying into the team’s campsite, hunting for livestock, have been on the increase. Though a guard is nominated to protect and support the team, the camp tents have no strong protection that can ward off a direct wild animal attack such as a stray donkey, or even lions, marauding at night. And animals are not the only threat at night: thieves can also find their way into the campsites.
The river deliveries are complicated during the rainy season as most areas become flooded with no safe place for offloading the commodities. The makeshift distribution pads have to be created out of water lilies and plastic sheets. The river is also infested with crocodiles and there have been reported incidents of humanitarian boats colliding with crocodiles.
The Riang Boma community in Ulang County gets pretty dry. The area has no trees and depends on small temporary depressions in the land that hold water to survive.
Upon the team’s arrival, the women sang and danced. One woman could not contain herself and burst into tears sharing how she had run out of options for feeding her children. She had lost her husband in the war.
She said she had boiled grass and other leaves for the children. She even said she occasionally starts a fire late in the evening to give the children the impression that something was being prepared. In the process, they would sleep hungry and waiting. This was the only way she could get them to sleep.
When she received her food ration, composed of sorghum, split peas, vegetable oil and some nutrition supplements of corn soya blend, she came to say thank you and asked us to always remember them.
Food deliveries by air and river have their strategic advantages as well as their challenges. The airdrops are massively expensive and require a high level of alertness and trust with all the stakeholders involved. Dropping the bags has the risk of them landing outside the designated drop area and onto households, which could result in damages or fatalities.
So far, we have not had any incidents - though experiences elsewhere have shaped our experiences. The thought of carrying a 50kgs bag to a collection point in time for the next flight, which at times is within an hour or less of each other, puts a lot of pressure on the women who form the bulk of the labour force.
The airdrops also mean camping in unfamiliar territories, in the middle of the bush and isolated from the rest of the world. Often, these areas have no connection and with bad weather, back up flights can be delayed for days, or weeks.
Due to logistical challenges, World Food Programme, in partnership with World Vision, can only deliver assistance bi-monthly for a period of six months between March and August through a combination of air, river and road deliveries.
The lean season emergency response is meant to cushion the community from sliding back into negative coping mechanisms (eating potentially poisonous food, forced migration, going without food or stealing) as they await harvest that is largely dependent on rain fed agriculture.
Without this support, the chances of the people resorting to harmful coping strategies and extreme level of food insecurity is high.
Currently most children at a young age are forced to cross borders into neighbouring countries to study. Often, this highly favours the boys and leaves out the girls. A percentage of girls being sent is very low, which is disempowering the girl child.
Loss of colleagues
We sometimes lose community volunteers who help us in the distribution. It becomes personal as these people were part of the team, shared our challenges and accomplishments, for a long time.
After the peace agreement was signed, the working conditions significantly improved. But many of the operational areas remained active conflict areas as warring sides are within reach of each other.
I started as a food assistance officer for the rapid response team about nine years ago. The idea behind the rapid response team was to have a fully-integrated response unit that could be deployed within the shortest time possible (72hrs) into hard-to-reach areas where few would be willing to go.
The units would be placed within the country, making them more efficient and cost-effective. The team was made up of logisticians, nutritionists, food monitors, and safety and resilience officers, ICT personnel to support with technology, all drawn from the national pool.
I moved from the rapid response team to the food assistance team in 2017. I am passionate about my work and hope I can continue to help South Sudan’s most vulnerable people, in the most difficult places to reach for years to come."
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