Skip to content Skip to cookie consent
Tearfund home

South Sudan: helping Mary’s family find their feet

When Mary’s husband died and violent conflict stole everything from her, Tearfund’s training helped her stand up again.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 05 Jun 2024

Mary smiles broadly as she talks about the excellent changes in her life with the help of Tearfund's Transforming Communities programme.

With help from Tearfund, Mary in Kajo-Keji has gone from feeling desperate with no way to feed her family, to a woman who describes herself as ‘happy, free from trauma and independent’. Credit: Tom Price/Tearfund

For a mum of four, feeding clothing and protecting your children can be hard. When you take in a fifth child (because their parents died), that adds to the strain and cost. When your husband dies in a sudden work accident, leaving you as the sole breadwinner, that’s even harder. And, when, one day soon after his death, you’re forced to suddenly grab anything you can quickly get your hands on, gather up your five young charges and run for the border to seek safety in another country from the violent attacks happening in your own, that’s unspeakably difficult.

And this is Mary’s story. This is what happened to her and her children. They fled their home in Kajo-Keji, South Sudan, to find safety in a refugee camp in Uganda.

‘I was very frightened,’ Mary says. ‘I was thinking about how to take care of my children.’

The difficulty of life in a refugee camp

But, life in the camp was extremely challenging. ‘My family didn’t have enough food,’ Mary explains. ‘I had to work carrying sacks of food when they were distributed [in the camp] to earn some food for my children. I persevered through these difficulties because I had no other way to feed my children. Because of the immense pressure I was experiencing, I started having suicidal thoughts. I felt like dying.’

The local church in Kajo-Keji managed to reach Mary and her family in the camp with some food and counselling assistance, but they were still too far away and then things got even worse. One of Mary’s children became very ill. ‘Pus started flowing through his nose,’ she says, ‘but, l had no one to help me. There was no money for treatment. Then, I became ill. My stomach was swollen, and I was unable to walk. I could only crawl. I received treatment, but it didn’t fully heal me.’

Risking returning home

With nowhere else to turn and desperate for any sort of solution, Mary decided to return home to Kajo-Keji. There, at least, she might be able to feed herself and her children from her cassava plot.

Back in Kajo-Keji, Mary’s cassava plot was doing surprisingly well and she felt relieved and grateful to harvest them. But, everything else the family had owned was gone. Mary’s livestock had been taken from her, her belongings were gone, and her huts had been burnt down. She was reliant on the kindness of others for shelter for her family.

At that time, one of her neighbours introduced Mary to a church nearby. Mary started to go there to pray, and things began to change.

‘The first thing the church did was to provide food to support me,’ says Mary, ‘and then they visited and counselled me.’

Mary and the members of her savings group stand outside in the shade of a large tree.

Mary and the savings group from her church. After training from Tearfund, the group now save together and are able to take manageable loans. Mary has managed to build her house with the loan she got! Credit: Tom Price/Tearfund

Transforming communities through the local church

At the church, Mary says, ‘I heard about this organisation, Tearfund, that trains people in personal growth and development when they face difficult times. They started a Transforming Communities programme, and I was selected from the church to attend the training course.

‘[Tearfund] taught us about group savings and farming. So, we started group savings and growing crops. I began to weave baskets from palm leaves and sell them for money to save with my group, which helped me to get a loan.

A close up picture of Mary's hands as she shows how she starts to weave a basket using pieces of flat grass.

Mary weaves a basket to sell so that she can provide for her children and save money together with her savings group. Credit: Tom Price/Tearfund

‘We were also taught about personal growth during the training. Before I did the training, I lacked confidence in myself. But, I can now express myself and I have developed leadership skills. When I am with my group, I feel happy and confident because I give positive advice to them.

‘Before, I used to shout at the children when I saw them doing something wrong. Now I have learned the right way to correct them. I stay calm, even when people argue.’

‘Thanks to the training, I am now independent.’
Mary, Kajo-Keji, South Sudan

Training people to become independent

‘Another thing that changed about me because of the training is that I should not depend on others for support. I should be self-reliant. Thanks to the training, I am now independent. I identified one of the God-given resources around me as the soil to make bricks. So, I took a small loan and hired people to lay bricks to construct my home. Then, I decided to lay bricks and fire them myself. I don’t depend on other people’s help anymore.

‘After paying back the loan for laying the bricks, I went back to my group to take another loan to increase the size of my tiny house, which I am still extending.

‘Because of the training, I am also farming. My family no longer faces hunger. And I was able to pay my children's school fees. These are the benefits I have gained from the training.

‘I feel much better now that I have these skills. But I still want to learn more skills – like tailoring. I want to buy a sewing machine for my house.’

‘For us to keep improving, I ask them not to stop teaching us. This training could help many more people in the community, not just me.’
Mary, Kajo-Keji, South Sudan

‘I’d like to say thanks to Tearfund – if they had not provided this training, I would not have gained these skills. I thank them for giving me knowledge; they have motivated me.

‘Before I received this training, I was traumatised. Now, I am happy. I am free from trauma and l enjoy good sleep and good health. I am now independent. Even building my own house is no longer a challenge for me. Before, I only thought about who would support me, but this teaching has helped me to become self-reliant.

‘For us to keep improving, I ask them not to stop teaching us. This training could help many more people in the community, not just me.’

Mary and her children sit outside on chairs in the shade of a large tree

Mary and her children in Kajo-Keji. All of her children are in education now that Mary has found ways to make a sustainable income. Credit: Tom Price/Tearfund

You can be a part of the story

Tearfund longs to see many thousands more people like Mary enjoying good sleep, good health, enough food and enough money for their children’s education. We want to see them thriving as they find long-lasting solutions to poverty. By working through local churches – like Mary’s – we can help make this a reality. But, we need your support to train excellent trainers and to provide the initial vital support (like food and counselling in Mary’s case) to get people and communities back on their feet. Please will you help more people like Mary who are facing extremely difficult circumstances all around the world.

Pray for South Sudan

    • Pray for the seven million people from South Sudan who will require food assistance this year. Ask for God’s provision and for abundant resources.
    • Pray for local churches to rise up and be at the centre of communities being transformed. Ask God for wisdom and favour for the trainers who are working with local churches to help them bring long-lasting, holistic change in the lives of people like Mary. And ask that more people will be identified and recruited as trainers.
    • Pray for healing from the trauma of violence, loss and displacement that so many people have suffered in Kajo-Keji. Ask God to bring comfort and to restore peace in hearts and minds.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

Share this page

Share this page to spread the word and help support those in need.

Get our email updates

Learn about our work and stay in touch with Tearfund. Hear about our news, activities and appeals by email.

Sign up now - Get our email updates

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.