“They targeted civilians and even came into the bush and to the islands looking for us”
My name is Nyagoa*. I am 38 years old and I was born in Rieri, South Sudan. When I was 15 I married my husband who worked for Médecins Sans Frontières in the Leer hospital. When South Sudan became independent, my husband decided to work as a full time pastor. I went to work for Médecins Sans Frontières in 2013 as a cook. By 2014 the second civil war had come to Rieri. Armed men burned and looted the hospital in Leer. They were killing everyone: women, children and the elderly. Every family lost relatives. We lost my husband's brother and my sister's son.
When we heard armed men coming we would run into the bush and stay the whole day. In the bush, things were calm. Our children would look out for dangers. The next year armed men from other areas came. The attacks became more frequent. They targeted civilians and even came into the bush and to the islands looking for us. If an attack wasn't sudden we would take some provisions. We drank water from the swamp and prepared sorghum grain there. If an attack was sudden, we just ran.
In 2016 things became very bad. The attacks were almost constant. The scariest thing was when soldiers were shooting at us while we were running and someone near me was shot, or when someone was caught and beaten, shot or raped. In December we left Rieri and then sent our five children on to Uganda. Many other people left, both to escape the violence and so their children could go to school. I came back to Rieri on 11 January 2017. Our house is remote enough that it had not been burned, but everything inside had been looted. I think my husband will come back soon. I miss my children but I am happy they are getting an education. Now I am a Women's Health Promoter with Médecins Sans Frontières in one clinic. I feel good working for Médecins Sans Frontières. Médecins Sans Frontières is the number one organisation dealing with suffering and health here, and is really appreciated by the community. They are providing support for victims of sexual gender-based violence and referrals for complicated maternal cases
"Are you going to release me or kill me?"
My name is Gatkuoth* and I am a 31 years old Community Health Worker for Médecins Sans Frontières. I am from Payak in Leer County, South Sudan. Although armed men were shooting, we did not need to run from their vehicles in Payak for a long time. There was a lot of water and mud on the roads, so vehicles did not come that way. We would just lie down when there was gunfire. But when the small streams dried up [and the roads opened], armed men came and the people living in Payak had to flee west and south.
In 2015, I started working for Médecins Sans Frontières as a casual worker on a measles vaccination campaign. There came a time when the armed men attacked civilians. Cattle and goods were raided by armed men. They looted and burned down houses. They did not only loot. You can be male or female and they can beat you or kill you. In one instance, about 50 people were captured and all of them were killed. When the looting became common, we dug a hole to hide bags of sorghum. But when the fighting worsened, we came at night and divided the sorghum between me and my wife, and moved. We met armed men on the road to Mayendit, who pointed their guns at us. They told us to go another route so we then went to Nyangpoa island. We were there for just one day when I was captured. They shot at me three times but did not hit me. We said we had nothing to give them, but they kept me for several hours. I asked them, "Are you going to release me or kill me?" In the end, they released me.
In October 2016 we went back to Mayendit again for three months to escape the fighting, and then to Dhorkheen and Bahr islands. My mother and brothers were with us in Payak. We had four tukuls (huts) plus one for cattle. I went back to Payak last week just to take a look. Our home was burned, but the shelter I built with plastic sheeting is still there. I will go back to Payak when there is security. If there is peace of course we can go back.
*Names have been changed