#HiddenHero: Delivering food assistance in South Sudan amid COVID-19

Jun 05, 2020
By Emilienne Cyuzuzo, Food and Cash Programme Manager, World Vision South Sudan

Every day I see and feel the fears of mothers as the COVID-19 pandemic slowly impacts communities in South Sudan. The reality is beginning to sink in. Many of the women I meet and talk to are among the most vulnerable. They live in the Protection of Civilians (POC) camps in crowded tents, sharing washrooms and toilets with at least 50 or more households. 

The congestion in these camps makes it practically impossible for social distancing and isolation recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent the spread of the virus. 

There are limited hygiene facilities and the healthcare system is weak. Everyone’s prayer is that the pandemic does not spread especially in these areas, or many will lose lives. 

I came from Rwanda and have been a humanitarian worker since 2011. I am a registered public health professional with extensive experience in nutrition, food security, livelihoods and cash-based interventions, both in emergency and development programming. 

A Rwandan woman walks between bags of food assistance
Emilienne Cyuzuzo leads her Food Assistance team in Juba, South Sudan at the Protection of Civilians (POC) site. Photo: Scovia Faida Charles

I manage a team overseeing food distribution for thousands of displaced people in Juba, South Sudan. The pandemic has changed the way we work. We have had to revise our response methodology, we’ve put some activities on hold, and we’ve started to include preventive measures in all our activities. 

This new normal has put my team under enormous pressure. We are exposed to tremendous health risks as we meet and interact with thousands of people to fulfil our mission. But food assistance is a lifesaving activity. The crisis means we need to do our job faster, while implementing additional processes to keep everyone safe.

We’ve added information sessions to make people aware of the risks COVID-19 brings and what they need to do to physically distance. But this isn’t an easy task, as people are reasonably most concerned about getting their supply of food and often are resistant to staying at the distribution site longer than necessary.

The need for humanitarian assistance in South Sudan is huge. It pains me every time I see families dividing the meagre food rations we distribute to make ends meet and find means for their other basic supplies. This often leads to inadequate food and rampant malnutrition among children. 

Two women talk. One holds a baby, the other wears a mask
Emilienne Cyuzuzo speaks with a mother living in the Protection of Civilians (POC) site in Juba, South Sudan during a food distribution at the start of the pandemic. Photo: Scovia Faida Charles

Growing up in Rwanda, I have lived the challenges these children face growing up in a fragile state. My family survived on charity and humanitarian support until the country stabilized. 

There was one humanitarian worker who inspired me a lot at a young age. She would come and read stories to us, and her enthusiasm to listen to the children was endless. 

One day she took me to her office, sat me on her seat and told me that one day when I grow up, I will be like her, doing the work she was doing in different countries. I was just seven years old then.

These experiences fuelled my passion to help the most vulnerable, especially the children. Since 2011 I’ve served in my own country, in Burundi, Uganda and now, South Sudan. I am always ready. 

The global pandemic has transformed millions of ordinary people into heroes, quietly stepping forward to help the most vulnerable. Without fanfare or accolades, they put themselves at risk on the frontlines of food distribution in displaced persons camps, or by simply delivering groceries to their neighbours who are more vulnerable to the virus. Why? Because Love compels us all to help our neighbours, the stranger, and “the least of these.” 

Who is your Hidden Hero? Let’s celebrate them together. Share what makes them a hero on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn and tag us @worldvisioncan and #HiddenHero.

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