Sheffield man helps refugees in 'most dangerous country in the world' for aid workers

Men, women and children are fleeing the conflict.
Men, women and children are fleeing the conflict.
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A Sheffield charity worker travelled to one of the world's most dangerous countries to help refugees fleeing a civil war.

Joe Ware, 34, spent time in South Sudan last month doing work for international charity Christian Aid.

The civil war has caused a famine in the East African country.

The civil war has caused a famine in the East African country.

He helped people deal with the famine caused by fighting that began in 2013, and heard some of their heartbreaking stories.

In the years since the civil war began 82 humanitarians have been killed in South Sudan, making it the most dangerous country for aid workers in the world.

Joe, who grew up in Hunters Bar, said: “The South Sudanese are some of the most resilient people in the world.

"Despite being an extremely poor country, they have had to live through civil war, famine and many of them have been forced to flee their homes, and yet they are still working hard to make a life for themselves."

Joe Ware, in the red T-shirt, with refugees in South Sudan

Joe Ware, in the red T-shirt, with refugees in South Sudan

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Those fleeing the war are trying to reach Unity State, a safe haven cut off from the rest of the country by swamps. But the journey is tough.

Joe, a former High Storrs School pupil, said: “I heard some harrowing stories of how people had to leave their homes and possessions and flee the fighting into the swamps. Many of them had to walk through the water for five days, carrying their elderly and disabled on their backs.

Christian Aid is trying to help people grow and catch food.

Christian Aid is trying to help people grow and catch food.

"They would sleep on small islands and were forced to eat the roots of waterlilies. At some points the water came up to their necks and tragically, many children drowned on the way."

Reaching Unity State comes as a relief for the refugees, but life there is by no means easy.

"Although they’ve escaped the violence, the protection provided by the surrounding marshes is also the thing that makes trade and food supplies very hard to reach them," said Joe.

"People have been kept alive by bags of grain dropped by air, but this is just the equivalent of putting a plaster on an open wound.

People have fled to a safe haven known as Unity State.

People have fled to a safe haven known as Unity State.

"The crucial thing is to help them find more sustainable sources of food. That’s why it was great to see Christian Aid’s local partner organisation UNIDO providing fishing hooks and nets so people could catch fish as well as developing ‘demonstration gardens’ to show the full range of fruit and vegetables that can be grown once people are given the right seeds and skills.

"UNIDO also run clinics where they check for malnutrition and provide special supplements to ensure babies survive their vulnerable early years."

Joe saw plenty of harrowing sights. But he also came away with an insight into the strength of the human spirit in huge adversity.

He said: “Despite the misery people have gone through and the precarious nature of their existence the South Sudanese we met were wonderfully welcoming and hospitable.

"They have so little yet they were gracious hosts and one group of farmers even gave me some okra and two aubergines that they had grown in their new garden. #

"It was moving to hear that despite their hardships they were still optimistic about the future.

The war began in 2013.

The war began in 2013.

“The good news is that if peace can be brokered between the warring factions then South Sudan has the potential to recover and become a jewel of Africa.

"It has fertile soils which could grow enough food to be the bread basket of East Africa, it has rich deposits of gold and other precious minerals and it’s also home to the second largest animal migration in the world – a potential source of tourism, if only the guns could be silenced.

“Until then, the important thing to keep hope alive and give the most vulnerable the tools to ensure they can build livelihoods which will make them resilient to food shortages like we’ve seen this year.

"Having met them first hand and seen their determination, I know that with a bit of help from us, they will succeed.”

Christian Aid Week begins on May 14, and the charity is marking the 60th year of the event. It is inviting people to stand in solidarity with refugees around the world and donate to help them.

Visit www.caweek.org, call 08080 006 006, or texting ‘GIVE’ to 70040 to give £5.

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