Caritas Australia’s partner, Hope Agency for Relief and Development, is assisting Deng’s family with a food security program. Families like Deng’s can now be confident of a more secure future and can rebuild their lives.
For the first 20 years of Deng’s life, he lived with his family in a small agricultural village in South Sudan.
In 1983, civil war broke out and their peaceful existence turned upside down.
Terrified women, men and children fled the local villages to live a life on the run.
Deng, 50, grew up with his extended family in Barmayen village.
This traditional South Sudanese community lived simply, slept in tukuls (huts), ate fresh food and enjoyed a peaceful existence.
“The women pounded or ground sorghum, cooked and looked after the family. The men looked after the livestock, went fishing, hunted in the bush and provided shelter,” he said.
Deng’s role as a young boy and teenager was to care for his family’s goats, but what he enjoyed most was fishing and hunting with his clan and his father.
“I never attended school. Every day I would take the goats out to the bush with the other boys for grazing. It was fun; we used to hunt in the bush and eat bush meat,” he said.
When Deng was six, he became very ill and with no medical facilities available, fell into a coma.
After regaining consciousness, he awoke to find his right side partially paralysed. Not letting this deter him however, he happily returned to the life he knew and loved.
In 1983 when civil war broke out, everything changed.
Frightened and taken by surprise, Deng, his family and other villagers fled for the bush, leaving behind their homes, crops and livestock.
“We were unable to be in our village, life was unbearable and all the time we kept hiding from the militia in the bush,” he said.
“We separated from our friends and other members of the family. The bush became our home.”
Their new life, without food, shelter or security became a daily fight for survival, but the hardest part was not knowing if they could ever return home.
“It was terrible. We were always on the move. We survived on wild fruits and bush meat, but many people died from starvation or sickness,” he said.
Over the course of time, Deng and his wife, Aketch, 38, had eight children, but three died.
Their wish was to raise their family in the village they loved so well, except life soon took another turn and Deng’s eyes became infected.
“I do not know what happened to my eyes. I started losing sight and eventually I could not see anymore,” he said.
As the head of the household, he was responsible for providing for his family. Losing his eyesight meant he could not do this anymore.
“Now it was my wife’s role to do everything. I was so devastated and had no wish to continue living. However, Aketch kept encouraging me and kept our family together,” he said.
In 2005, the civil war ended and they were able to move back to Barmayen village.
To assist with resettling, Caritas Australia’s partner, Hope Agency for Relief and Development established a food security and rehabilitation program specifically for female headed households, young people and people living with a disability or illness.
Caritas expresses solidarity by reaching out to those who are most marginalised, so Deng was overjoyed to hear that he would be able to participate.
To diversify income and increase access to food, the program provides participants with livestock, seeds, sustainable agriculture training, and fishing equipment. Locals also have access to clean safe water via a new borehole, and are learning about good health practices.
Through the program, Deng and Aketch received two goats, five chickens, fishing nets and a selection of seeds to plant on their small plot of land. They are confident of a more secure future and are happy their children can now attend school.
“I am very hopeful that we will have enough food for the next season. We sell the fish that we get from the river, and I am able to buy my children school uniforms,” he said.
“Thank you very much and God bless you abundantly. I am looking forward to a good harvest.”
To donate, support or fundraise for Project Compassion 2014 please visit our website at www.caritas.org.au/projectcompassion or phone 1800 024 413.