It Took a Village

December 11, 2012 • South Sudan
South Sudan Food Drop
South Sudan Food Drop

By Daniel Emmons, SP staff member

With the rainy season having closed all roads into the Yida refugee camp and supplies of food running low, drastic measures were needed to relieve the threatening food shortage. A decision was made to airdrop 3000 metric tons (150 semi loads) of food from the World Food Program.

The plan included using huge Ilyushin-76 cargo planes, which would drop 32 metric tons of food per flight. The flights would have to commence as soon as possible and continue six days per week for a period of almost two months in order to supply the needs of the ever-growing refugee population.

The Yida refugee camp came into being as a result of people fleeing across the border into South Sudan because of the on-going conflict in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. This area has suffered great persecution. The government in Khartoum has dropped bombs on them, and forced them to hide in caves for their own safety.

South Sudan Food Drop

South Sudan Food Drop

Death from above at the hands of their own government and starvation due to the lack of food has combined to create a humanitarian crisis. Between 50,000 to 60,000 refugees have made the long and arduous journey to the Yida refugee camp, which is located in the vast wilderness area of northern Unity State of South Sudan. Samaritan’s Purse has been providing humanitarian aid to the camp since August, 2011, soon after the first refugees began arriving.

There is a small, dirt airstrip on the outskirts of the camp that is used to fly people in and out and for small shipments of supplies. For the drop to be safe and successful, it was necessary to clear an additional 120,000 square meters, an area equivalent to 24 football fields. It would have to be free of trees, vegetation, and even the towering red termite mounds that dot the landscape of the camp.

With no heavy equipment available, the work would have to be done by hand. The timetable required it to be completed within a two weeks. Many people thought it could not be done.

The Yida refugee camp is divided into areas called Bomas, or neighborhoods occupied by refugees from distinct areas or towns in the Nuba Mountains. There are 40 different Bomas, and each has a leader who represents the people from his area. When the leaders were asked if they thought it would be possible for so much work to be accomplished by volunteers from the Bomas, they replied almost in unison, “No problem.”

On the first day, over 1,000 men and women showed up ready to clear the drop zone, and with a joyous spirit, they commenced with the huge project. The entire area had the feel of a festival as the sounds of singing and dancing were intermingled with the chopping and slashing sounds of thousands of axes, machetes, and hoes.

John Heywood, the 16th century English playwright, wrote, “Many hands make light work.” The Nuban people have a saying that goes, “One hand cannot clap, but two hands can.” The Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

The procession of workers making the trek to the drop zone continued each morning. Clearing an area of brush equal to 24 football fields is a daunting task, but with a unity of spirit and purpose the volunteer workers of the Yida refugee camp finished in only one week. Because of this, we were able to make the air drops of food on September 10.

Please join us in praying that the food drop will be successful and accomplished safely. And please continue to pray for the Yida refugee camp, where the population grows daily as the people from the Nuba Mountains continue to flee from the desperate conditions in their homeland.