In December 2013, a mere two and a half years after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, the nation plunged into a harrowing armed conflict. The aftermath witnessed over 4.5 million people displaced, both within and outside the borders.
Among them, Maria*, originally from Malakal, became one of the 2.2 million people seeking refuge within South Sudan.
“I was in the market when the fighting erupted. I rushed home, only to find my husband and children missing. No one knew where they had gone. I was left stranded, and my only option was to seek refuge at the UNMISS compound,” recounts Maria, who has been living at the United Nations Protection of Civilian site (PoC site) in Malakal for the last ten years.
“For months I could not sleep, tormented by the thoughts of my missing family."
The repercussions of trauma, challenging living conditions and limited livelihood opportunities have had a profound effect on the mental health of 40,300 people, who continue to live in the Malakal PoC. Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and grief became pervasive issues, exacerbated by the limited access to mental health services.
“Life in the PoC is not the same as the one outside. Here you completely depend on other people for support”. Maria, once a small-scale businesswoman, lost everything during the war.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is one of the humanitarian organizations that stepped in to provide essential support. Beyond the immediate concerns of shelter and sustenance, IOM recognized the urgent need for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in IDP camps.
The organization facilitated individual counseling, support groups, cultural and sport activities, creative endeavors, non-formal learning, and integrated livelihood support in the Malakal PoC.
“For months I could not sleep, tormented by the thoughts of my missing family,” Maria shares. “If not for the counselling and the peer-to-peer discussions that are so relieving, I don’t know how I would cope.”
Amidst the chaos, Maria found solace in one of IOM’s Women’s Support Groups, a sanctuary for women facing similar struggles. These groups serve as a platform for peer-to-peer learning, encompassing various activities such as embroidery, bead making, hand sewing, fish net weaving, local soap making, production of clay pots, and bread baking.
“Hearing the stories of women who were going through similar situations made me realize I was not alone”, - Maria explains how the support group rekindled her sense of hope. A year later, fortune smiled upon her as she was reunited with her family. Driven by a desire to pay it forward, Maria hasn’t stopped attending the Women’s Support Group sessions. Throughout the decade she has been an active member, Maria has learned essential life skills that will carry along her journey.
*Name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.
IOM’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Unit activities are funded by USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/BHA), the European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).