At the end of March, South Sudan began to implement national prevention measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19, such as suspending big gatherings, religious gatherings, and closing schools, etc. The poor health care facilities, poor sanitation environment, and poor hygiene practices in Tonj have made it difficult for us to fight against the pandemic. Despite the challenges, we are trying our best to increase public awareness of COVID-19 by giving multiple briefings to teachers, students, workers, neighbors, and even Sultans of different tribes, on the pandemic situation, the spread of the virus, and the prevention measures with simple hand-drawn visual aids. We are also distributing cloth face masks and bar soap to encourage personal hygiene. We are grateful that some of our students are working with us closely to make face masks, draw posters, do briefings, etc in fighting against the pandemic. So far our sewing team has produced 1500 face masks, and we are targeting to reach 3000.
The threat of COVID-19, however, is still not taken too seriously by the local people, likely due to the bigger threats of food crisis and insecurity that they are facing. During this time of intense tribal conflict, the violence has affected many families. Some were killed, many huts were burned, people have to run for their safety. At the same time, children are forced to stay at home without having the only meal that they usually have at school, while school is closed due to COVID-19. The United Nations warns that the pandemic may cause more than 6 million people in South Sudan to face famine. Since the border was closed in late March, food prices have continued to soar. Due to insecurity issues, those who fled Tonj for safety might miss the cultivation season completely, leaving them no food to eat in the coming season.
In order to reach out to the poor children, we have launched the “milk for children” campaign in early May by giving milk to more than 300 children under 5 and breastfeeding mothers daily. We target to help 1000 people in a 3 month period. We have also introduced personal hygiene education while distributing milk by making children wash their hands and bottles with soap on the spot. Thank God that we have already witnessed big improvement among the children.
To encourage the locals to stop fighting and start cultivating, we continued the “seed for cultivation” program which was started last year with 80 families among our upper primary and secondary students, who were required to return the same measurements of seeds after harvesting and drying. We extended the same program this year in May to reach out not only to our students but also to our workers, neighbors from different tribes and clans, as well as some internally displaced people (IDP). We target to help 160 families this year. 50 kg of seed is given out to each family who is required to return the same measurements of seed after harvesting and drying. The participants are encouraged to store up some seeds for cultivation in the next season. Praise the Lord that our campaign has attracted many after the good rain has arrived. We see the violence has gradually quieted down, families are slowly returning to Tonj, many have started cultivating.
We pray that our campaign is not simply a one-off financial assistance, but an initiative to make the local people gradually responsible for their lives and to enable them to stand on their own feet and learn how to live together in peace.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us in Tonj and the world in these difficult times.