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South Sudan descended into chaos in mid-December as fighting broke out between troops loyal to the government and rebels who support the former vice president.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes.

More than 5,000 people in the capital Juba sought sanctuary in the compound of St. Theresa Cathedral. Even now, despite the ceasefire brokered at the end of January, several hundred families remain there.

Caritas members Caritas South Sudan, CRS and CAFOD worked alongside the Sacred Heart Sisters congregation to provide the families with food, water and medicine.

We look at three lives torn apart in South Sudan by the violence.

Tree No. 2 for a home

Julia Foni Laku and her children have been seeking protection in St Theresa Catholic Cathedral in Juba since December.  Credit: Joseph Kabiru/CAFOD

Julia Foni Laku and her children have been seeking protection in Juba’s Cathedral. Credit: Joseph Kabiru/CAFOD

Julia Foni Laku, a mother of three, lived in one of the military barracks in Juba. On the evening of 15 December, she knew something was wrong:

“I saw soldiers rushing to collect their guns and I saw the armoured personnel carriers being prepared. At 10pm, all the women were put in one place and then the shooting began, bullets flying everywhere.

“When fighting erupted, people started running, leaving behind everything they owned, afraid that they might be killed if they stayed put.

“I knew I wouldn’t be safe in the barracks with my children. I had to make a decision about their safety. So I fled to St Theresa Catholic Cathedral with my three children.

“The tree marked with a number two in the Cathedral compound has been my home for the past two months. We pray that God has mercy on us all and that our country will be at peace soon.”

A mosquito net for swaddling

In the chaos that ensued after fighting broke out, many women were separated from their husbands and still do not have news of their whereabouts.

Stella Jacob’s husband was among a group of men who had responded to a call from the army to go to one of the barracks in Juba for recruitment, but does not know what has happened to him since then.

Stella Jacob and baby Thomas Sebit. Credit: Joseph Kabiru/CAFOD

Stella Jacob and baby Thomas Sebit. Credit: Joseph Kabiru/CAFOD

She was eight months pregnant when the shooting began and fled with her two other children and her mother taking what possessions they could carry, and spent the night in the forest.

“I was terrified huddled on the ground with my children and with my mother. I knew in the morning we needed to rush to the cathedral for safety. When we reached the cathedral, I was allowed to sleep on the floor in a building in the cathedral grounds.

“The following night in bed, when I turned, I felt a sharp pain and I immediately knew my labour had begun. I called my mother and asked her to quickly find a midwife.”

For Stella the next few hours were terrifying – her waters broke and she had to deliver her baby with no help at hand. Baby Thomas Sebit was born and wrapped in a mosquito net; it was the only thing she could find.

While they feel safe in the cathedral compound, Stella is anxious about how she will get by, and wonders how she will be able to start her life over again without her husband.

“I do not know what the future holds for me and my children without the support of my husband. I have just a few relatives here and I do not know what my life will become.”

What future?

Jacob Jeniso is 14-years-old and is one of five children. He should be revising for his exams but the conflict has disrupted his schooling. He is struggling to adjust to the living in the cathedral compound.

Jacob Jeniso,14 years, retrurned to South Sudan in hope of a brighter future. Credit Joseph Kabiru/CAFOD .

Jacob Jeniso,14 years, retrurned to South Sudan in hope of a brighter future. Credit Joseph Kabiru/CAFOD .

“Life here is unbearable. Before the fighting began I could play peacefully and freely in my neighbourhood at Korwilliam, but here in the cathedral grounds, we are so confined.

“I used to go fishing in the White Nile before the fighting; now I cannot do that anymore.”

Jacob and his family had lived in Khartoum and had returned to South Sudan after independence in July 2011, looking forward to building a new future.

“I like South Sudan better than life in Khartoum. However, Khartoum has no fighting and many of us long for that peace and tranquillity.

“South Sudan is my country and I cannot change that, but the fighting has brought about misery and suffering to the people.

“My message to our leaders is this; fighting is destroying the education of young people like me and we are not optimistic about the future at all.”

Jacob hopes to become a pharmacist when he finishes his education – a profession, he says, that helps people in need is worth pursuing.

Caritas is providing 100,000 people with emergency relief. The aid includes food, plastic sheeting, blankets, mats, jerry cans, soap, mosquito nets, clean water and health care.