South Sudan: Life in a Cattle Camp

In a country where millions of people need humanitarian aid to survive, cattle camps represent an important, if tiny, economic reality that provides communities with livelihoods and development.

By Francesca Sabatinelli & Linda Bordoni

In South Sudan, it is estimated that some 8.9 million people, more than two-thirds of the population, will need significant humanitarian assistance and protection in 2022.

For more than a decade, people’s lives have been undermined by years of conflict, social and political instability, unprecedented climatic shocks, ongoing violence, frequent displacement, the impact of the COVID pandemic -19, food insecurity and multiple epidemics. And now, among the consequences of the war in Ukraine is the suspension or reduction of international aid operations due to the rising cost of wheat and transport.

But, as Vatican Radio’s Francesca Sabatinelli discovered, in some parts of the country cattle are an important part of politics and economics. People depend on their milk or sale for food, school fees and medicine.

John Maker, who works as a logistics expert for the Italian-funded NGO “Doctors for Africa CUAMM”, and who personally grew up in a cattle camp, explains that traditionally cows have enormous economic value and symbolic for the people of South Sudan. .

Listen to John Maker’s interview

“In a cattle camp, sometimes life is hard and sometimes easy!”

It’s our life, says John Maker, who grew up in a cattle camp in Sudan’s Lakes State, explaining that cows are precious possessions.

Cattle camp near Yirol, Lakes State, South Sudan

At present, he says, “the situation is okay – because there is peace in Lakes State” – but for many years the state has been wracked by war and violence over the past few years. which hundreds of people, including aid workers, have been killed since the conflict erupted in 2013.

But today, John continues, different families and many tribes live together in the cattle camp.

He explains that many residents commute between the camp and the nearby town of Yirol, fueling an economy based on the sale of milk to buy other goods, such as maize flour, the staple food for the children and the community as a whole.

Currently, he says, “people are profiting from the cows.”

“And if there is hunger, the head of the family can choose to sell a cow,” he adds.

“Cows are like money in the bank”

John Maker at Cattle Camp near Yirol

John Maker at Cattle Camp near Yirol

John himself spent the first 12 years of his life in a cattle camp before receiving an education.

His life changed when he was sent to school in the city, he says, and now that he is working for CUAMM, his life “changed for the better!”

“And I’m happy to help my community”

Doctors with Africa CUAMM, founded in 1950, is the leading Italian organization working to protect and improve the well-being and health of vulnerable communities in sub-Saharan Africa. In South Sudan, it provides displaced people with medical assistance and essential supplies and supports outlying hospitals and clinics.

The NGO, says John, has brought huge changes to Yirol because “where there is a health facility, that’s where people come and it makes the town grow.”

When there were no Italian doctors, Yirol was not like that, he says, the community is grateful for their presence!

Cattle camp near Yirol, Lakes State, South Sudan

Cattle camp near Yirol, Lakes State, South Sudan

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