From Selling Firewood to Owning a Grinding Mill, Ajok Shares her Story
For generations in South Sudan, displacement has been a way of life.
Ajok Mabil’s journey is not too different from the stories you might hear from other displaced people throughout South Sudan. A widow and mother of six, Ajok is originally from Bor, but she was forced to leave due to insecurity.
In 1997, Ajok, then 28 years of age, lost her husband due to a war in former Sudan; they had only been married for two years.
Life became extremely difficult as she assumed sole responsibility for their six children, many of whom she had given birth to at a very young age.
In 2003, Ajok decided the safest thing for her and her children was to flee to Ethiopia.
Life became too taxing for her as a single mother in a foreign country. She decided to return home in 2004 but Ajok was unable to access assistance.
Months later, Ajok and her children headed to Kakuma Refugee Camp, one of the largest refugee camps in the world, located in North-Western Kenya.
In Kakuma, the family was finally getting the help they needed but Ajok never felt at home. She could not easily adapt to life in a refugee camp. With six children, it became difficult for her to queue for long hours waiting for their rations.
In 2006, Ajok again decided to move back to South Sudan, specifically Kapoeta, a town which is about 212 kilometres from Kakuma.
“It is better for me to go back home and struggle there, than stay here waiting for my rations.” Ajok said to herself when she decided to leave Kakuma camp. “I do not have any means of transport, but I must go home because home is where I will find rest.” She added.
On arrival in Kapoeta, Ajok did not know where to stay. She took her children and went to the local police station. They ended up sleeping there for about three months.
Ajok wanted to be independent, so she asked for a plot of land from the Catholic Church. Her family was given a piece where she started cultivating and fetching firewood to sell in a nearby market. With this little money, she was able to buy food for her children.
While at the market, she overheard that the Kapoeta Development Imitative (KDI) was looking for women to form groups of six for its livelihood programme. These women would receive capital to start a business of their choice.
KDI, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), provided Ajok and her group with a grinding mill as well as capital to expand her business.
Ajok’s group has six women from different tribes across South Sudan. “I love my group because we promote unity, which is the major problem I have seen in South Sudan,” said Ajok.
She also explained that she can now pay her children’s school fees and buy them proper food, decent clothes and medical care, which she was unable to do before. She loves that she is now an independent woman.
“I now have a place I can call my home, my office,” Ajok said. “Back in my village I used to hold sukuma wiki (edible vegetable that she used to plant in Bor) in my hands but today, with this grinding mill, I now hold a pen and a book where I record my savings. This pen shows that I am now independent and able to look after my children” she added, while putting forward her hand with the pen she uses to put down the records of her business.
“I asked God for a second husband after I lost the father of my children and he gave me this grinding mill, it is now my husband,” Ajok exclaimed.
Along with 30 other women’s groups, Ajok’s livelihood group is supported by IOM through its partner organization KDI, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). These groups are supported through the livelihood project with the aim to promote the self-reliance of women in Kapoeta.