I visited the town of Bor on my last trip to South Sudan. Bor is a large town that sits on the east shore of the White Nile River north of Juba. This place was attacked and controlled by rebel forces in December 2013 and again in January 2014. Hundreds were massacred. The militia ransacked Bor State Hospital, killing patients in their beds, a doctor, and some Bor residents who had fled there thinking they might find safety. According to hospital staff, 130 people were killed, their bodies left to rot on beds or in the courtyards.
Relief workers who came to see the destruction after the rebels retreated found bodies still lying on the ground, the hospital and town empty of life, a completely trashed and broken place, stained with blood.
Bor survivors made it to safety across the Nile to a place called Minkaman where an estimated 80,000 people continue to live in temporary shelters. Most are still too afraid to go home, except for some of the sick who are willing to come back for treatment at the hospital.
I spoke to a few patients at the hospital and heard just a small bit of their stories. It’s heartbreaking, and only a minuscule piece of the vast suffering in South Sudan.
Akim Kuer, holding the first born of her daughter Achok. The baby is 24 hours old.
“When the rebels attacked this town, they killed almost everybody. They were shooting at random, so you had to run away. They set the houses on fire. They killed the elder ones, the young ones, everybody. So there was a time when I saw it, and knew I could not now stay, so I had to cross the river to the other side. In my immediate family, five people were killed, including my son. I lost three brothers-in-law, my mother-in-law, and my son.”
Kon Mading with his 4-year-old son Kok.
The boy is anemic and has an enlarged liver. He tested positive for malaria and has had a fever and vomiting for six days. They crossed the river from the Minkaman IDP camp to get treatment at the Bor hospital. I saw Kok throw up with no bag or bucket, and his father tried to clean him up with the bed sheet. Then he held and rocked his little boy until the doctor came.
“When the rebels attacked this town, it was night so we ran to the north part of the town without knowing that the rebels were coming from the north side. So when we were hiding in the bush, the rebels attacked us there. We had to cross the river and get to Minkaman. Within my family circle, many people were killed, approximately 30 of them.
I was a businessman. I used to buy cattle to sell here in the town. I had to choose to get my kids to the other side of the river, and allow the cattle to be taken, but I saved my family.
The happiest time that I’ve seen was when I bought many cattle and had a big profit. The unhappiest time was when I lost all my business, and seeing people dead, lying on the ground.
Now I no longer have anything, but I’m not totally giving up. I have to struggle to get the capital to start the business again. I haven’t lost hope in life, but sometimes when you are desperate, you think like that. We are just persevering.”