Yari is only 17, but she has more to deal with than most girls her age. Four months pregnant and with a long list of daily chores, she has already been married for two years.
“I wasn’t ready to get married,” she said.
Her early marriage happened after her family escaped the conflict ravaging their village and settled in a displaced person’s camp in Awerial in South Sudan’s Lakes State two years ago.
Yari was not consulted by her parents when they decided to marry her off.
“My mother told me that if I married, I would save the whole family from hunger and give my brothers the opportunity to marry too,” she said.
Her family had nothing to eat, so they saw the cattle—which was offered as a dowry—as a chance to boost their chances of survival. Her brothers were also keen to use the animals as dowry for their own marriages.
After the marriage, life got harder for Yari.
“I work from dawn to dusk, with no time to rest,” she said. “I have to walk a long way to find clean water and I do all chores for the extended family. The worst thing is looking for food for everyone.”
Plan International is supporting the family with food supplies, but to supplement this, Yari spends long stretches of time in a nearby forest with other women and girls picking leaves to eat.
“Sometimes after eating the leaves, I vomit, maybe due to my pregnancy, but I have to eat them to survive,” she said. “I crave eggs and fresh fish, but my husband cannot afford that.”
Since November 2015, Plan has partnered with the World Food Programme to distribute food to more than 8,600 people in Awerial. The organization is also providing girls who attend school in South Sudan with food rations to share with their families, as it serves as an incentive for parents to keep them in school rather than marrying them off.
“The food crisis is affecting everyone,” said Celestino Dumo, Plan International Field Coordinator for Awerial. “We have to give people half a month’s supply to ensure everyone has some form of food in their households, but that is meager.”
Plan’s supplies are running out. The organization urgently needs donations to ensure it can continue to provide life-saving food and nutritional assistance to people like Yari and her family.
“If the rains were here, maybe I would be farming in the field, but all I can do now is wait for food aid and the small amount of milk my husband’s cows produce,” she said.
With a child on the way, she is hopeful that the rains will come soon so she can grow vegetables such as okra and peas. For now, the region remains dry.