Twelve-year-old Ihisa has not heard from her parents in a year.
Her father left the family home in a village in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatorial state in search of work a year ago. A few weeks later, her little brother dislocated his knee, forcing her mother to take him to the hospital in Juba, South Sudan’s capital.
“Since then we have not heard from either of them,” said Ihisa, with tears in her eyes. “I have no idea where my parents are.”
It is not uncommon to find households headed by children in South Sudan. Children have suffered the most during the country’s conflict and food insecurity and its descent into what the United Nations describes as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Huge numbers of young people are growing up away from their parents, forcing them to depend on one another for comfort and support. Many adults have been killed in the conflict, while others have joined armed groups and are away fighting. Some have left their homes and families to hunt for job opportunities in distant cities.
Ihisa’s 17-year-old brother, Lazarus, and 14-year-old sister, Hiteng, are now the family’s main caregivers. Not only do they provide for and care for Ihisa, they also care for their twin brothers, 8-year-olds Oting and Oloya.
Together, the five children have lived through the painful reality of hunger. They have cried and consoled each other to sleep and nursed each other through almost life-threatening sickness.
Ihisa’s village recently benefited from Plan International’s food security and livelihood project, which targeted 28,000 individuals in vulnerable households in Torit.
As part of its direct food assistance project in partnership with the World Food Programme, the organization handed out beans, maize, and oil.
“Earlier, we survived on coconuts and wild leaves from the nearby bushes; then when the rains started we collected green leaves from the fields,” says Ihisa. “Hiteng boiled the greens with ash to give them a salty taste.”
“Everything changed when we received food from Plan International. For the first time in a while, we have cooking oil, beans, sorghum, and real salt. This food is enough to last us for a month.”
The rainy season is here, so Ihisa and her siblings have begun cultivating a piece of land their parents once worked. They hope they will be able to harvest some vegetables soon to help them survive.
“I wish my parents were here to help us with the harvest,” says Ihisa. “Life would be easier.”