A life fleeing from war, lions and kidnappers
© Agnete Rishøj

A life fleeing from war, lions and kidnappers

2.4 million people are right now fleeing from their homes in South Sudan.  For many of them it isn’t the first time they have had to flee and leave everything they have behind.

32 year old Akuol Gak Awuol has tried it twice. She has found the strength to survive civil war, attacks by lions, kidnapping of friends, hunger and a life on the run from her home in South Sudan.

Chapters:

Chapter 1:  The attack
Chapter 2:  The flight
Chapter 3: The camp
Chapter 4: The good life
Chapter 5: The new flight
Chapter 6: The dream

 

Chapter 1: The attack

Akuol was woken up by the first shot.  The little girl was sleeping under the stars with her family in the cattle camp at Pajorm in southern Sudan, when the attack interrupted  her night’s sleep and changed her life in January 1991.

Akuol Gak Awuol was born seven years earlier, the 5th of May 1984, and was her mother’s sixth child.  She grew up in a large family in the small village, Pawel.  It was a typical Sudanese village; round mud huts with grass roofs surrounded by solid fences made of branches and sticks.  The enclosed courtyards were located next to one another and in and around the courtyards there were trees spaced sporadically. Pawel was in Jonglei Region, which is in the southern part of Sudan, in an area that would later secede and become South Sudan.

Akuol had a predictable life ahead of her as a Sudanese girl, a future herding cattle, aquiring a husband, giving birth to some children and creating a family.  Life was without major worries.  Her father usually ensured that the children were not too hungry and had clothes on their bodies. 

Her father was a respected man in the clan and had nine wives, which meant that Akuol had nine women she called mother. One of the major events was when her father was going to marry Akuol’s “fourth mother”.  For the occasion the grown-ups decorated themselves with cow skin around their arms and legs, and they wore jewellery made out of elephant tusks.  The vainest guests coloured their hair yellow in the hope of impressing potential partners of the opposite sex.  The method was to stand behind a cow and be ready to rinse your hair when it urinated.  The cow’s urine coloured hair yellow. 

But the safe childhood came to an end one night in 1991.  That is when Akuol, her parents and others from Pawel visited a cattle camp that was in Pajorm – a village close to the Nile.  Akuol enjoyed being at the cattle camp.  There was lots of cattle, the family ate fish and drank milk from the cows.  Life was wonderful.

© Mathilde Utzon

Seven years old and fleeing alone

With a clear view of the sky, Akuol Gak Awuol lay down to sleep one night in January 1991. Her parents and the others from the cattle camp were also sleeping outside in Pajorm.  The area was bare, without trees, but with tall grass, grass that the cattle and animals ate during the day.  It was on this night that   Akuol was woken far too early.

“We heard shots from right and left.  People started to run around in confusion.  Some were wounded while others were killed.  People ran as fast as they could away from the river bank to get into the forest, so they could hide among the trees”, she tells.

The sound of desperate cries and shots were unmistakeable.  Akuol was in danger of her life, and that was true of her family too.  That was why she fled.  But she didn’t know in which direction to run.  The rebels were attacking from all directions.

She doesn’t know how many rebels there were.  But they had a lot of guns, and she remembers that it was young men who were responsible for the attack.

Akuol and some of the survivors got away from the first wave of attack at the cattle camp.  But the group was quickly caught and attacked again.

While she was running toward the bushes to get to safety, she could suddenly feel that she was bleeding from her face.  She didn’t know where the bullet had come from.  She felt how the blood was streaming from her right eye.  She had been hit, and everything went black.  Her sight vanished.

The damaged eyesight and the shock made her disoriented.  She collapsed and stopped running.  But then a grown up hand caught her.  It pulled Akuol’s hand so the seven year old girl got up on her feet again.  It must be her father who had come to save her, she thought.  But she was wrong.

© T.Karumba

Not father’s hand

The rest of that night, when Akuol and her family were attacked, she stayed in the bush together with the grown up person who had saved her and some of the others from the cattle camp who had also run in the same direction.  While they waited for the sun to rise they hid in the high grass and hoped that the rebels and their shots wouldn’t find them.

It was not until the next morning that Akuol realised that she hadn’t been rescued by her father.  It was an unknown woman who had taken her hand.  The woman’s name was Yar Arok Biowei.

When she thought back to what happened that night she remembered that everyone had run in different directions.  But she did wonder why she had seen so few people run.  The reason the grown-ups in the group gave was that most of them had been either wounded or killed. The thought of what had happened to her parents haunted her.  Were they perhaps still alive?

Akuol did know Yar Arok Biowei from the cattle cap, but she wasn’t Akuol’s parents.  Akuol felt all alone in the world and couldn’t help being overcome with crying. She had a hard time trying to find out why she should go on living.  Yar Arok Biowei tried to console her.

”You are also my child now.  Your family fled too, and they have perhaps taken one of my children with them.  So stay with me.”Yar Arok said to me, ”You are also my child now.  Your family fled too, and they have perhaps taken one of my children with them.  So stay with me.”

Yar Arok

And from that day on, Yar Arok Biowei became Akuol’s foster mother.

The background for the ambush

Akuol Gak Awuol isn’t sure why she, her family and the rest of the cattle camp were attacked that night in 1991.  Yar Arok Biowei told her that they were victims of an ambush because the rebels wanted to steal their cows and because the warriors were sent by the rebel leader Riek Machar.  He led a faction of the independence movement in the southern part of Sudan and he wanted to replace John Garang who at that time was the leader of the independence movement and the rebel group the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).  During the independence movement’s internal power struggle many civilians lost their lives, as was the case when Akuol’s cattle camp was attacked.

If Akuol thought that the attack was her life’s worst nightmare, she was wrong.  Now that she was fleeing, she had become a refugee.  A refugee who would meet danger of all kinds on the road to safety.

Chapter 2:  The flight

Akuol and the group of refugees only moved at night toward the town of Bor.  On her feet she had shoes made of cow hide that carried her through the bush in a big curve away from the roads.  On the roads she and the rest of the group of refugees could risk being discovered by the bombers that patrolled over the roads in daytime.  The bombers belonged to the Arabs.

Akuol spent 30 days getting to Bor even though the direct distance between the cattle camp and Bor was only 150 kilometres.  That was her first goal on the escape route.  Bor was the first larger town on the route and there might be some people there or relief organisations that could help her

The Arabs that Akuol was afraid would bomb her were the Muslim population that dominated the northern part of Sudan.  From 1983 and until 2005 the Muslims in the north fought against the Christian population in the south in what is known as the Second Sudanese Civil War.  It started when the Arabs in the north wanted to introduce Sharia law in the entire country.  The Christian population in the south, with John Garang as their leader, wouldn’t accept this and created the independence movement Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

The civil war ended up costing a great many people’s lives.  It is estimated that about 2.5 million people lost their lives during the Second Sudanese Civil War and that about four million people were internally displaced and two million people like Akuol Gak Awuol fled out of the country.

While the SPLA wanted independence from the north there was also fighting internally in the regional independence movement – and there were, and still are, only bad guys. In addition to the fact that various factions of the SPLA killed civilians and made them flee, the SPLA used, according to Human Rights Watch, torture, looting of villages and child soldiers in their warfare.  Some of the same methods that the Arabs from the north are known to use.

Akuol didn’t just flee from the rebels that were fighting one another internally in the independence movement.  She was also fleeing from a bloody and brutal civil war between north and south where Arabs patrolled the roads and bombed civilians that got in the way.

© Mathilde Utzon

The lion took Deng

For Akuol, Yar Arok and the group of refugees, survival was the only thing that mattered.  That’s why they struggled on through the bush under cover of darkness at night. On the way they met wild animals like elephants, giraffes and hyenas.  But the animal they feared most was the lion.  No one in the group had a gun to protect them with and if they were attacked by a lion they would have to defend themselves with sticks and branches they found on the way.

To protect themselves against lions and the other wild animals that hunted at night the grown-ups made a big circular fire around the place where they slept.  Surrounded by the fire the grown-ups slept in a circle.  Inside with first the grown-ups and then the fire to protect them the children slept together with the most vulnerable members of the group.  If an animal approached the grown-ups would warn the rest of the group and try to throw branches at the animals.

But one night the circular fire and branches were not enough.  Akuol and the group were between Panyagor and Bor when they were attacked by a lion. Most of the group ran away, panic-stricken, while some of the grown-ups tried to protect themselves and the group.  They fenced with branches and tried to throw sticks at the aggressive lion.  But they didn’t succeed in rescuing eight year old Deng Biowei when the lion attacked.  With the crying victim in its jaws the lion ran away.

That was the last time Akuol ever saw Deng Biowei.

One fruit – a source of food

Lions and wild animal were far from the only threats and challenges in the bush.  The only kind of medical treatment they had access to was boiling water with salt in it.  This was used to rinse Akuol’s wound around her shattered cheek and eye.  And there was just as little access to food in the bush as there was to medicine.

“We were constantly hungry.  We didn’t eat for pleasure.  It was a matter of having enough food so that we could just barely survive.”

They survived mainly by using every drop, rind and tiny piece of flesh of a special fruit called “lalop”

© Mathilde Utzon
© Mathilde Utzon
© Mathilde Utzon
© Mathilde Utzon

 

First the outer part of the lalop fruit is cleaned. The rind and the broken bits are used to cook soup on. The red flesh can then be eaten-both cooked and uncooked. After the remaining pits are dried they can be cracked.  And the seeds in the middle are very filling and easy to travel with. If you just ate five or ten of the inner seeds and swallowed them with water you would be sufficiently full, Akuol remembers.

When the relief ran out

After a month of exhausting travelling through the bush, Akuol arrived at her first milestone which was the town of Bor.  But there were Arabs in Bor so therefore it wasn’t safe to stay in the town and together with her foster mother she had to continue on further south and travel through the dangerous and impassable bush.  Finally in March 1991 after fleeing for two months they found rest and protection when they arrived at a UN refugee camp in the town of Gemeiza.  It was a big camp with white tents where people from all over the southern part of Sudan had sought protection and food in order to survive.

In the camp white, raw maize was distributed.  Each person got a cup of maize and some white beans that just barely kept starvation at bay.

They stayed in Gemeiza for five months, but in August 1991 they had to move on because the food rations ran out.  The UN trucks with food and the most basic supplies could no longer reach the camp because the conflict was still raging and the roads were blocked.

Two friends were kidnapped

Akuol and her foster mother were now travelling with a group of about 100 refugees. It was mainly women and children who fled southward and in their group there were only a few men to defend them.  Most southern Sudanese men were fighting in the civil war and were separated from their families.

Early one morning when the sun was rising, one of the men were walking ahead in the refugee group.  He was the father of two children, the girl Nyan was three years old and her brother Deng was five.  He carried Nyan on his shoulders and at the same time he showed the group the way through the impenetrable bush.

Without warning a group of guerrilla fighters from the Murle tribe jumped out from their hideouts and attacked them.  Akuol and her foster mother ran.  Most of the women and children around them did the same.  They screamed for fear of being taken.  The Murle tribe was known for taking children that they used to look after their cattle.  Akuol was afraid that she would be the next child that the Murle warriors would take.

But the warriors didn’t get as far as Akuol.  They grabbed Nyan and Deng’s father. The warriors shot at him while he focussed on saving his two children. While he was taking Nyan off his shoulders he lost his grip on her.  The rebels had guns and moved too fast for him to rescue his daughter and son.  Before the tribal warriors vanished with Deng and Nyan they killed the children’s father.

Akuol never found out whether her two friends from the group survived or were adopted into new families.  But now she knew that lions, rebels from an SPLA faction, the Murle tribe and Arabs from the north could attack her at any moment.

Chapter 3:  The camp

The destination of the flight was Uganda.  Akuol and the other refugees were going to seek asylum there.  When they left the refugee camp at Gemieza, Akuol and the other refugees still couldn’t use the roads.  Arabs patrolled the roads and in addition, the SPLA had laid land mines down in the ground in the area where they had to pass.  The escape route went from the town of Mangalla to Ngangala and then on southward.  And even though it wasn’t more than 60 kilometres as the crow flies between the two towns, it took Akuol and the other refugees about 30 days to reach Ngangala alive.

On the last part of the trip to the border crossing into Uganda Akuol, Yar Arok Biowei and the other refugees were escorted by SPLA soldiers.  It was useful to have their protection because the soldiers knew where the landmines were and therefore could lead the big refugee group around them.

© Charles Lomodong

Stability in instability

After fleeing for eight months and travelling through dangerous bush in the midst of a war zone, the now eight year old Akuol arrived at the Uganda border alive and all in one piece.

Like many other refugees she didn’t have any clothes on when she arrived at the rough and almost virgin bush landscape that was now to be her home.

“Now I had finally arrived at a place without war and the only thing I thought about was whether my parents were still alive.”

Akuol stayed together with Yar Arok Biowei who continued to look after her.  They were placed in a refugee camp named Alera in an area called Adjumani which is located in the most northerly part of Uganda. It was safe in the camp, but Uganda was a dangerous place just outside the camp.  The northern part of Uganda was at the beginning of the 1990’s devastated by rebels that fought in the area.  So that is why the camp was protected by Ugandan soldiers from the Army.

The refugee camp that Akuol and her foster mother moved into consisted of tents.  They had to chop down and remove the bush and the trees there themselves so they could live in the area.  They got sugar and wheat flour, and she remembers that they could manage quite well for very little money at the local market in the camp.  Akuol started to go to school.  She found more stability there than she had known for a long time.

In Uganda there was also finally someone who could treat Akuol’s disfigured face and the shot wound to her right eye and cheek.  The doctors removed the damaged bone around her mouth and an operation meant that her face could heal.  The eye couldn’t be saved.

© Mathilde Utzon

The surprise

After her arrival in September 1991 Akuol grew up and became a teenager in the refugee camp.  She remembers that Yar Arok Biowei looked after her well.

On a perfectly ordinary day in 2001 18 year old Akuol was at school.  She had reached the sixth grade out of seven, but that day she got news that she hardly dared to believe.

The message was that her mother, Rebecca Ayak, had come all the way from Sudan to take her daughter home.

But Akuol couldn’t quite understand it.  It didn’t make sense that her mother had come to get her.  First of all, there were so many that had been killed when they were attacked at the cattle camp.  And during the last ten years she had lost hope of ever seeing her parents again.  Secondly, the trip from Sudan down to Uganda was long, difficult and expensive.

Akuol put her things away at school and began to walk home to her tent in the camp where her mother apparently was waiting for her.

“They are lying to me”, Akuol thought as she was on her way home to the camp.

But when the now grown-up Akuol got to her part of the camp there weren’t any more sceptical thoughts or feelings left in her body.

Her mother stood right there.  Stood and waited for her daughter.  They hugged one another with tears running down their cheeks.

When they had run out of tears it was time to talk.

“When I heard that you had survived and lived in Uganda I just had to travel down there to get you” Akuol’s mother told her.

Akuol’s mother said later that she only had  two living children left and Akuol was one of them;  Akuol, who was her mother’s sixth-born child.

The mother wanted to take Akuol home to Sudan.

Akuol had one more year of school left before she could finish 7th grade and have a basic education.  It was important for her foster mother that Akuol finish her schooling.  But it didn’t happen.  Akuol chose to go home with her biological mother. She felt that she had to be together with her family.

Chapter 4:  The good life

Even though Akuol wasn’t a little girl anymore and had lost many members of her family in the civil war, many things were the same as usual back in Sudan.

Instead of coming home to her village, she was right away sent out to a cattle farm to work.  This is where her future husband, Bul Malek Gak noticed her.  They fell for each other very quickly.  Even though he already had a couple of wives they got engaged and lived together.  Polygamy is not unusual in that part of Africa as long as the man can pay a bridal price in the form of cows for his new wife.

Akuol was relieved that there was a man who would have her.  She was afraid that she couldn’t get married and that she wouldn’t have any children because she wasn’t beautiful anymore and was missing one of her eyes.

Her father, however, wasn’t particularly impressed by his daughter’s husband.  Bul Malek Gak wouldn’t pay a single cow for Akuol.  So Akuol answered:

“I have lost one of my eyes.  And this man wants to marry me and have children with me.  I have to live with him to have children,” she explained to her parents.

Because the husband didn’t pay any cows meant that Akuol and the children had to live with her parents.  So they could help out there.  While she lived at home with her parents she had three children and was expecting her fourth.

© Mathilde Utzon
© Mathilde Utzon

 

The new beginning

Life back in southern Sudan was peaceful and good.  Especially one day was the culmination of the good life at home.  After almost 30 years of struggle for independence from the Arabs in the north, South Sudan got independence on July 9th, 2011. Akuol will never forget how independence felt like the beginning of a new life where she could begin to build up and not just tread water.

“We were all so happy to have our independence from the Arabs.  Everyone celebrated at home in the village”, she says.

In the country’s new capitol Juba independence was also celebrated.  The South Sudanese flag was raised while people danced and partied in the streets and uniformed soldiers marched in straight line.  Caravans of cars honked their horns.  The party, SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) that had its origin in SPLA, formed the government with Salva Kiir as leader.  He was the country’s first president.  At his side Riek Machar was installed as vice president.

 

After independence came the relief, hope and dreams about a secure life with stability and peace.

“My greatest hope was that there wouldn’t be any more problems.  That this was a new beginning.”

But the high hopes were on shaky ground.  The alliance between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar was more like a ticking bomb than cooperation with focus on peace and reconciliation.

© Mathilde Utzon

© Mathilde Utzon

Chapter 5:  The new flight

The evening was like all the others when Akuol put her children Apajok, Ayen and Deng to bed.  Dark, but with the country’s optimism as an encouraging light.  December 16th, 2013 that was the last quiet evening.  She kissed the children goodnight and when they had been asleep for a long time she lay down to sleep next to her parents.  But none of them were allowed to sleep through that night.

In just a few seconds the night was transformed into an inferno of shots, flashes of light from machine guns and grown-ups and children screaming and running for their lives.  It all happened just outside Akuol Gak Awuol’s little mud hut in Bor.

Akuol Gak Awuol jumped out of bed and reached out for the children. But her eldest daughter, 10 year old Apajok Bul Malek was too fast.  She was gone.  And Akuol’s mother was gone as well.  They had run in a different direct from her.

She quickly got hold of her two youngest, Ayen and Deng.  They had to get away, and there was no time to pack a bag or take anything with them.  When she got out of her house she saw how the soldiers brutally shot and killed anyone they could get close to.  In their night-clothes women, men, children and grandparents fled for their lives.  To get away from the hail of bullets some ran down to the Nile.  Many couldn’t swim but ran out into the water anyway and drowned.  Others found boats they could sail away in.

Akuol could only see chaos, destruction and anarchy.  She couldn’t see her daughter.  Now it was her daughter who was fleeing alone without her mother, just as Akuol herself had done.

© Agnete Rishøj

Fleeing without mother

Akuol’s daughter Apajok Bul Malek didn’t have time to consider how she could flee together with her mother and her two siblings. When she was suddenly woken up by gun shots being fired and people that were being killed all she could think about was getting away.

Apajok left everything behind her.  When she left the house she could see how the warriors cold-bloodedly killed people at random who were running for their lives crying and screaming.

She ran in the same direction as her grandmother.  They ran together and held each other’s hands tight.  But Apajok  ran too fast and when the warriors went directly for them her grandmother let go of Apajok’s hand.

Apajok didn’t have time to look back.  While she ran she could hear how her grandmother was hit by shots.  Without knowing exactly what had happened to her grandmother she slipped past the warriors and hid in the bush.  She met one of her mother’s friends there.

“I know your mother.  Your mother is my friend.  I will take care of you”, said the woman to Apajok.

They had to hide in the bush for two days before they could begin the dangerous flight toward Uganda.  They couldn’t go directly back to Bor because the town was now controlled by a rebel group that was probably led by Vice President Riek Machar.  A rebel group that was later known as SPLM-IO (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – In Opposition).  And is the same rebel group that probably attacked Apajok and her family while they lay and slept in their house in Bor.

In the attempt to find a route to escape from the rebel groups, Apajok and her mother’s friend tried to go to Panyagor but it was too dangerous to go there.  Riek Machar’s soldiers were everywhere.

Finally they had no other choice but to go back to Bor and try to find a boat that could sail them away from the war-torn area.  Without being discovered Apajok and her mother’s friend managed to get down to the shore of the Nile.  From there they found a boat that sailed them to the little town Gulyar.  They stayed there for three days after which they travelled southward and got to Uganda at the beginning of February 2014, a month and a half after the attack on Apajok, her grandparents, mother and siblings.

© Mathilde Utzon
© Mathilde Utzon

 

The struggle for South Sudan

The pregnant Akuol Gak Awuol succeeded in fleeing with her two youngest children.  They got on board a boat from Bor to the capital Juba.  In the capital Juba it seemed as though almost everyone was fleeing out of the town and out of South Sudan.  For that reason it was easy to move on quickly southward toward the Uganda border.  Without any problem all three of them hopped on a random car that was about to leave.

Akuol never got a clear picture of what started the civil was in South Sudan in December 2013.  There are not many others who have either.  One explanation is that the vice president, Riek Machar tried to carry out a coup against the president, Salva Kiir.  The result was that Riek Machar fled from South Sudan and didn’t come back until April 2016 as part of an attempt to get a peace process going.  He didn’t manage to stay in the country for more than two months before SPLA/M and SPLM-IO were at war again.  As we write there are 1.7 million people who are internally displaced according to the UN and 800,000 have fled from South Sudan.

© Agnete Rishøj

The painful reunion

For the second time in Akuol’s 29 year short life she had managed to flee from and survive another attack.  She saved not just herself but also her two youngest children Ayen and Deng and the unborn child that she was carrying.  Even so she couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened to her oldest daughter Apajok.

“I wanted to go back and try to find her.”

Akuol and the children arrived on December 29th at the Uganda border town of Elegu.  Then they waited for more than two weeks and finally got a permanent house in a refugee village, Nuymanzi in the Adjumani area.

On February 8th the waiting was over.  She was told that her daughter had arrived in Uganda and had applied for asylum.  But there was no news of her mother.

As soon as she could Akuol went to the reception centre where her daughter Apajok had arrived.

The relief at being able to hug her daughter and know definitely that she had survived the flight was enormous.  But the daughter also brought the news that Akuol had feared for a long time.

“I heard her being shot and was told later that she was killed”, Apajok told her mother.

Although she was happy and relieved to be reunited with her daughter Akuol was just as unhappy about the news that she had lost her mother.

At the same time Apajok had an anxious question for her mother:

“Where are my siblings?” she asked.

To the daughter’s great joy Akuol could tell her that they had all survived and also were in Adjumani in Uganda.

But both Akuol’s mother and father had been killed on that December night when she was attacked for the second time so Akuol was now alone in Adjumani with her soon four children a long way from her home in South Sudan.  The same place as she had grown up.

Chapter 6: The dream

Akuol Gak Awuol still lives in Adjumani three years later.  Even though she doesn’t have many clothes, she has two leopard print dresses.  One of them is full length and the seam has burst at the breasts.  She is very pregnant with her fifth child and still moves with a straight back.

“The biggest change is that I am alone with the responsibility for the children.  The last time I lived here I didn’t have to think about washing clothes, cooking food or cleaning house.”

She lives with her children in a small, square mud hut with a grass roof.  The house is very tidy inside and in each end of the house there is a bed.  There is a mosquito net hanging down from the ceiling, and the roof is lined with white bags from World Food Programme food rations.  The house is in a small enclosure with a few other huts that have sharing a common courtyard in the middle.  The yard is swept carefully, and Akuol has a small fenced lemon tree standing in the middle that she has received from one of DanChurchAid’s partners.

All the houses have been built by the refugee themselves with building materials they have received from relief organisations.  This is part of the Ugandan refugee policy which is different from most other places in the world.

In Uganda refugees receive a small piece of land they can cultivate and where they have to build their home.  That way the areas where the refugees live are more like villages than camps.  The refugees can move around the country freely and work where they want to.  In Uganda the refugees are considered as a resource.

© Mathilde Utzon

The dream of flying

Everyday life in the refugee village Nuymanzi, where Akuol and the children live, is spent looking after the children and trying to grow corn and other crops on the land she was given.  The children go to school in the morning and in the afternoon, when the practical tasks have been done; Akuol takes time to learn English.

When her eldest daughter Apajok isn’t at school or looking after the younger children, the thing she enjoys most is singing in the church choir.

But life as a refugee isn’t easy.  Every day Akuol has to live with having more or less lost her entire family during the age long civil war in her home country.  Sometimes she is overcome and cries when she remembers the time when Deng Biowei was taken by a lion and when Deng and Nyan were kidnapped by Murle warriors.  She struggles every day to concentrate on the present and produce enough so that her children do not go to bed hungry.  She is happy to live in a safe place but she misses her parents and the help they used to give her with the children.

© Mathilde Utzon

“There aren’t any rebels here and there isn’t constant war here.  That is why I will apply for Ugandan citizenship” she tells with a firm look in her eye.

Akuol Gak Awuol cannot image ever going home again.  That is because there is no prospect of stability and education and the many years of war, hunger and sickness. And then she hasn’t any family members left in South Sudan any longer.

One of the most important reasons that she doesn’t want to go home again is that it is only a very few, and the richest, who have an opportunity to educate their children – and Akuol doesn’t have that chance the way things are now in South Sudan.  She doesn’t want to leave again.  Imagine if the same thing happened to her as happened to her foster mother Yar Arok Biowei?

After Akuol Gak Awuol went with her mother home to South Sudan in 2001, some of the refugees who lived in Adjumani were sent to the West.  Her foster mother Yar Arok Biowei has moved to either Australia or USA.  Akuol can’t remember where.

Akuol’s big dream for the future is to give her children a future without fleeing, hunger and being constantly in an uncertain situation.

“My greatest wish is that we can be allowed to move to Australia or another place where by children can get an education,” she says.

Her eldest daughter, Apajok Bul Malek isn’t in doubt about what career she wants.

“I want to be a pilot,” she says and explains why.

“So I can get away quickly and take my family with me if there are new problems”, say the 13 year old girl with shining eyes full of hope.

© Mathilde Utzon

What we did

All the information about Akuol Gak Awuol’s life was told to Mathilde Utzon.  The information in the story is mainly based on Akuol Gak Awoul’s version of her story and has afterward been supplemented by many other sources that have also explained the historical conditions and development in Sudan and South Sudan.  Mathilde Utzon has spent a week in Adjumani’s refugee area where she spent most of the time with Akuol Gak Awuol and her children.

Mathilde Utzon

It is DanChurchAid’s correspondent in Africa, Mathilde Utzon who has met the South Sudanese refugee Akuol Gak Awuol and been allowed to take part in her long journey.

Mathilde Utzon has lived in Uganda since April.  She reports from there about relief work with, among others, refugees in Africa.

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