For hungry families stranded on remote islands in the swamps of South Sudan, hope arrived by canoe.
After three years of fighting in South Sudan, millions of people fled their homes, escaping violence only to face a new danger – hunger. Many vulnerable families fled to remote islands, so miles of swamp stood between them and the aid they so desperately needed.
But hope is believing that, no matter how big the obstacle, there is always a way around it. That’s when Oxfam set up the canoe operator scheme – training Gabrial and others like him to transport people to food distributions or doctors.
Nyarout is just one of the people Gabrial meets along his daily journey through the swamps. She’s living on one of the islands, having fled the conflict with her disabled mum. Before Gabrial reached them, people here were surviving on the few fish or lily plants they could retrieve from the swamp. But, because she needed to look after her mum, Nyarout hadn’t even been able to do that. Now, the pair have been able to register for a food distribution. “They bring us with these white boats. If they did not come we would have missed out.”
For Gabrial and his canoe colleagues, being able to make this kind of difference means everything. “I feel a sense of achievement when I carry a sick person to the hospital on the mainland and they get treated,” he says. “Or when I get some food to an elderly person who could have died of hunger.” Plus, because Oxfam pays him to operate the canoe, he’s earning a living to support his own family, too.
When you think of saving lives, you might not picture a man in a canoe. But, in South Sudan, people like Gabrial have lost count of the times the small boats have been the difference between life and death. Support from you means that Oxfam will always be there, finding a way around any obstacle – even if it’s by canoe.