This page highlights our Christian Aid Week theme of helping those affected by conflict. Here, Gen Lomax meets a woman from South Sudan who embodies her country’s struggle to be reborn.
Anoon and her children in South Sudan
There are some stories that need to be told.This is Anoon Aleu’s.
It is a burning hot morning in northern South Sudan and I sit with Anoon on a dusty floor beneath a temporary grass shelter.
She looks me directly in the eye as she speaks. She wants to tell her story to ‘heal her heart’ and so that we do not forget the people of South Sudan.
Like so many here, Anoon’s childhood was devastated by civil war.
She breaks down as she describes how members of her family were forced into their home and burnt alive by militia. Anoon escaped to the bush with her mother and brothers where they survived on wild foods, before fleeing from the south of Sudan to Khartoum to escape the violence.
Brought up by her brothers, Anoon worked in a clothes factory, met her husband Madut Ayom Dong, a teacher, and had eight children.
But sporadic outbursts of violence against southerners living in the north threatened the safety of Anoon and her family.
‘I feared for the life of my children. I wanted them to be safe,’ she tells me.
‘I built my house next to my son’s grave and I will not leave it’
Independence for South Sudan
So, when July 2011 brought peace and independence to South Sudan, Anoon was desperate to return to her homeland and start a new life.
But it was to prove a harsh and ultimately tragic homecoming. The family was allocated land in Apada camp, an open wasteland that now houses more than 40,000 returnees.
‘When we arrived in Apada it was just bush,’ Anoon says. ‘We spent the first seven days living under a tree. We did not have any shelter.’
Despairing, Anoon sold what little they had to buy food. Her eldest son David even took his beloved bicycle apart so he could mend other people’s bikes for money.
The grave of Anoon Aleu’s son
But David was already ill with pneumonia and died suddenly. With him died all the hope that Anoon had brought with her for life in South Sudan.
‘When you hold a child inside you, when you see them grow, you have such hope,' she says.
Anoon’s family fell apart. Her husband tried to take his own life, her eldest daughter Eliza could not talk or eat and Anoon was taken into hospital.
Gradually, however, they began to rebuild their lives.
Hope and healing
Sitting with Anoon nearly two years after she first arrived back in South Sudan, I ask how she found the strength to carry on. What kept her going, she says, was her community, her faith in God and the work of our partner Hope Agency for Relief and Development (HARD).
Anoon's husband Madut builds their new home
HARD gave the family the emergency supplies they so urgently needed: plastic sheeting, cooking pots, mosquito nets. Crucially, they then followed up with a grant for the family to build a secure, brick house.
‘This is important to us,’ Anoon told me. ‘We can now live together safely and this brings my children courage and hope. I built my house next to my son’s grave and I will not leave it.’
Although the political situation in South Sudan has deteriorated since I met Anoon, the area where she lives is currently free from the increasing violence that has hit many other states. With the continuing support of HARD, Anoon’s family are planning to grow crops and Anoon has started a small business, making biscuits to sell at the local school at breaktime.
And her story does not end there. Since we met her, she has a new baby girl, Achol. Hope springs eternal.
Crisis grows in South Sudan
April 2014: More than 900,000 people have been displaced amid escalating violence in South Sudan since 15 December 2013. The UN estimates that considerably more than 10,000 people have been killed and at least 75,000 people have taken refuge in UN compounds.
Political tensions have been building in South Sudan since President Salva Kiir – leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – dismissed the entire cabinet in July last year.
Despite the signing of a Cessation of Hostilities agreement on 23 January, violent clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and opposition forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar have continued unabated.
An estimated seven million South Sudanese people face hunger this year, with the UN warning of famine at the beginning of 2015. Find out how we are responding.
Find out more
Christian Aid Week 2014
Our work in South Sudan
Video: Anoon's struggle for hope