For South Sudanese mothers, COVID-19 has shaken a fragile foundation | Lifestyle

Associated Press

Juba, South Sudan (AP) — Paska Itwari Beda is familiar with hunger. Young mothers with five children (all under the age of 10) can survive with one glass of porridge a day. The whole family can scrape a meal once a day together, even if Beda has a lot of the money she earns for the cleaning office. food. She sleeps hungry in South Sudan, which has only 10 years of history and has already collapsed due to the civil war, hoping that children do not have to work or beg like many others. ..

But pandemics scare Beda in a way that doesn’t even starve.

In South Sudan, life is built and wobbles at the edge of uncertainty. The peace agreement to end the civil war is far behind schedule. Violence occurs between ethnic groups. Corruption is widespread. Hunger infests more than half of the 12 million population. And even the land itself does not guarantee a solid foothold, as climate change causes floods in the country’s strips.

Still, many women say it is the most perceived pandemic pain, as opposed to the sudden trauma of war and the collapse of famine. A place where it is difficult to raise children.

COVID-19 has reduced humanitarian aid, the lifeline of many in South Sudan. This is because distant donors instead turned their attention and funded their citizens. The oil sector, which is heavily dependent on the economy, has been hit hard by the global price plunge, with borders closed and imports cut off. The blockade has wiped out informal tax-exempt labor and other jobs that many South Sudanese depended on their daily diet.

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This story is part of a year-long series on how pandemics affect women in Africa, the most serious least developed country. The AP series is funded by the European Development Journalism Grant Program at the European Journalism Center, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. AP is responsible for all content.

And the pandemic only exacerbated widespread hunger in South Sudan. As the country marks its decade of independence this month, the United Nations warns that it is “more children in need of more urgent humanitarian aid than ever before.” More than one million people are expected to face acute malnutrition this year than during the civil war, and the county has the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world, about 2.8 million.

Beda, now 27, gave birth to her youngest child, a twin girl, just weeks before the coronavirus arrived in Africa. With border closures and other pandemic regulations, prices for basic items such as cooking oil have begun to rise. Schools were closed and teachers, including Beda’s husband, who had long supported his family with stable salaries, suddenly stopped paying.

Like many in South Sudan, Beda’s family suddenly lost its earners. Children under the age of 10 were also sent to work and pan handles to meet this whole new reality. The adolescent girl wasn’t married — one less person to eat because her family received money and cows.

Beda told her that she would not allow her children to be part of the lost generation of uneducated and poverty-stricken South Sudan. She found a job outside the family complex and commute to the office in the capital, Juba, for an hour each way. This is a rare move for women in this mostly conservative part of the country. As a cleaner, she earns £ 16,000 a month, or about $ 35. She earns additional money by making cupcakes for sale in her office building.

But I don’t buy much money. After school reopened, inflation, combined with her husband’s salary, hollowed out Beda’s income. Before the pandemic, Beda said £ 100 “could get you something”, but now even 1,000 or 1,500 “do nothing”. The cost of the staple food, white sorghum, has risen from £ 1,000 in South Sudanese pounds to £ 1,500 in 3.5 kilograms in just six months.

Beda tries not to stick to the situation of her family before COVID-19. But she remembers. “Before Corona, life was good.”

Then Juba was a kind of shelter. Thanks to her husband’s salary and humanitarian food aid to supplement it, Beda was able to stay home and raise three children before the twins arrived. South Sudan received $ 1.1 billion in funding in 2019.

On their premises near the military base, Beda’s family (including father-in-law and mother-in-law) ate three meals a day. In countries where many women carry containers long distances from wells and rivers, drinking water has been delivered to relatively luxurious homes.

Now, Beda wakes up before dawn and has a morning routine to take her family outdoors. Her older children, slender under a school bag, boarded their father’s bike, disappeared on Juba Street and went to school. Attendance fees are high there. Beda then commute while the twins are with the extended family.

The family’s water supply has been exhausted by savings. So, with the help of her children, Beda now carries her own water. They walk to the well several times a week, where she puts a plastic container on her head. She tries to stabilize it, but a drifting stream runs down her neck past a small metal earring labeled “Jesus.”

Beda is constantly watching for signs of illness in her children. Medical care before the coronavirus was easy. Drugs that were once available in public hospitals are now difficult to find. And because of the financial sacrifice of the pandemic, hospital services are no longer free.

When children get sick, Beda may choose to save money and rely solely on herbal remedies. But recently, one of the twins collapsed with a cough and fever — serious enough to visit the hospital. She received the drug, but Beda couldn’t get her back for follow-up care.

The local health center in South Sudan was not ready to deal with an outbreak as widespread as COVID-19. They see an increase in infections as countries across Africa are tackling an increasingly dangerous wave of incidents. Overall, more than 10,000 cases of coronavirus have been identified in the country, but due to the lack of testing, that number is probably underestimated. Even in the capital, there is a shortage of oxygen, ICU beds and other important supplies.

South Sudan has received 60,000 doses of some of the vaccines it needs, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Like much in Africa, countries will probably have to wait months until next year to receive substantially more.

Beda is one of the unvaccinated people in her community. So she became a role model. She found a job in a country where women make up less than half of the workforce. Beda shows independence and her neighbor sees her as a leader.

The hardships of COVID-19 united them. Due to lack of resources, Beda and nine women have formed a group to meet and contribute to the two most important essentials to prevent hunger and illness: money and soap sticks.

They meet weekly, pool supplies, and distribute them to different families each time. They share their advice over a cup of coffee. They come from different ethnic groups, counterpoint the tensions of the civil war, and say the groups reflect their common trust.

Initially, they admit that they didn’t take COVID-19 seriously. They were already facing relentless pressure to pass through South Sudan. But when they saw the virus killing thousands in nearby and distant countries, depression spread and frustration at home increased until women decided to form a group. ..

“It helps save us,” said one member, Margaret Peter. “You can’t do anything alone. How can you save your life if you are alone?”

Beda’s twins know life only in a pandemic. They can now stand, cling and talk. Still, they are still so small that each can be rolled into a bucket in the family courtyard and peek into the brim.

Beda wants more for them than he does. She witnessed a five-year civil war that killed an estimated 400,000 people. She has a scar where the bullet hit her arm when she was young during the liberation movement. In the turmoil of the conflict, she never finished school and instead became pregnant with her first child.

The beda has been decided. She vows not to quit her job or fight. She will serve as a community helper and as a guardian and donor for her children. Every Friday, when the women’s gathering breaks up, the twins rush to Beda to snuggle up to each other and breastfeed.

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For South Sudanese mothers, COVID-19 has shaken a fragile foundation | Lifestyle

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