Mary: “Sometimes we go two days without food”

“Sometimes we go two days without food,” said Mary Awutcok, 33, from South Sudan. “If there is anything to eat, it is only given to the children.”

South Sudan is in the midst of a serious hunger crisis. Almost two thirds of the population are hungry. Drought and conflict are driving the crisis, the worst the country has seen since it was founded 11 years ago.

Mary and her children can only eat once a day because her vegetable garden has completely failed due to the drought.

no rain

“Because of the drought, the vegetables couldn’t grow anymore,” says Mary. She lives in Cueibet, a province in central South Sudan. The province has been hit hard by the lack of rain during the crucial growing season. “It is very difficult for my family. We have lost our crop. The first rainfall fell in May, but it only lasted a day. It didn’t rain for the next two months.”

Read also: Sofia & Sara: “Our children go to bed hungry”

Eat once a day

Mary fed her six children for months on only the pumpkin leaves that survived the dry season. “Last year in July, we could eat three times a day. Peanuts, pumpkins and everything else we had planted could be harvested in July. But this year we only eat once because there is nothing in the kitchen garden.”

We can only eat once a day, because nothing grows in the kitchen garden

Mary’s Tea Company

Since her farm’s food yield is uncertain for the next few months, Mary has started selling tea. This way she can earn some money to buy food for her family. “I have a small tea business, that’s the only way I get money. The business I run is small. Sometimes I don’t have any customers. If one of my children gets sick, I have to use the money for their treatment. Then the family does not eat that day.”

Mary in the foreground with a line of people behind her.  She is wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and is smiling at the photographer.
Mary tries to support her family with her small tea business.

Girls eat less

Most days there is not enough money to get by – and it is usually the girls who lose. Mary: “Girls often eat less food than boys. Although women and girls are responsible for the cooking, men and boys are given priority in eating the food.”

Girls often eat less food than boys

In times of scarcity, this constant lack of food can seriously harm the health of women and girls. “Ideally, everyone needs food, men and women alike,” explains Mary. “Women feel hunger just as much as men. It’s just because of the situation that we sometimes compromise”.

The harvest fails

There has been some rain lately on Cueibet. If this does not continue, the next crop is likely to fail again. Mary has only planted a small part of her garden. She is afraid of losing more seeds due to drought and cannot afford to replace them. “The drought has made life more challenging. We’re hungry, and we shouldn’t be.”

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“I am happy about food aid”

Mary received support from Plan International: “Today I received four items, grain, pulses, salt and oil. This allows me to save the little money my business makes. I am happy with this food aid because I feel that someone is behind me in this difficult situation.”

Mary sits in the middle of a group of women near a stone building.  A cloth with the logo of Plan International and the World Food Program hangs from the stone building.
Plan International supports women like Mary with a food aid program.

That’s what Plan International does

Due to the unpredictable climate in South Sudan, many more will need help if the rains do not come again. 62.7% of the population, or 7.7 million people, currently suffer from acute food insecurity (UNICEF). Swift action is needed now to avert a humanitarian disaster and save the lives of those most affected. Plan International expands its response to the hunger crisis in Cueibet. Together with the World Food Programme, we distribute food rations to families in crisis.

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