Finding a silver-lining

How women in South Sudan are cushioning their families from economic hardships brought on by the pandemic

Nov 25, 2020 · 4 min read
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Sunday Alfred selling kisira(thin fermented bread a local food staple in South Sudan), at Gurei community market in the suburb of Juba. Photo: WFP/Musa Mahadi

Since it was declared a Global Pandemic earlier this year, COVID-19 has disrupted all facets of life and affected millions of people across the world. Jobs have been lost, businesses closed and livelihoods destroyed. People have had to get creative to provide for their families; the women of South Sudan are no different.

One such woman is 31-year-old Sunday Alfred, a mother of seven and a bread maker-turned-businesswoman. Sunday used to bake Kisira (thin fermented bread that is a local food staple in the country) and sell to a local restaurant in the suburb of Gurei in Juba. This gave Sunday extra money to add to her husband’s salary as a civil servant and enabled her to feed her large family.

“I would prepare Kisra and take to the restaurant owner who would pay me 3,000 South Sudanese Pounds(US$5), ” said Sunday. “But when Corona came the owner had to shut down the restaurant and I was no longer making money.”

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Kisra (flatbread thin bread) is made out sorghum or wheat flour. The sourness and sponginess of flatbread goes well with Molokhia leaves cooked in a meat-based soup and lamb stew with carrots and potatoes. Kisra is popular in South Sudan and Sudan. Photos: WFP/Musa Mahadi

Restaurants were shut down as part of preventive measures to restrict movement and break the chain of transmission. As if that was not enough, her husband’s salary was frequently delayed. The couple could barely secure a meal for their seven children.

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity

With no solution on the horizon, Sunday knew she had to think creatively to feed her family. Even though people were avoiding public places, including restaurants, Sunday realized they still needed food. She was determined to meet their needs and deliver directly to her customers.

“My children were getting hungry,” recalls Sunday. “I started my own business so that I could save my children, I now make Kisra and sell in the market. I decided to be self-employed.”

And the silver lining — she now earns three times as much as she used to.

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Gurei Community Market where Sunday and Poni run their businesses. (R) Poni Christopher recently at her stall near her home in Gudele, suburb of Juba. Photos: WFP/Musa Mahadi

A fellow mother, Poni Christopher, also supports her family through a street stall selling produce and other food items such as peanut butter and salt. Despite being grateful for still having her business, Poni is worried about the future.

“My situation was better before this virus, people would buy, and I was making sales,” said Poni. “Now business is struggling as many people are cutting down the number of meals per day.”

Changing Lives

With funding from partners such as USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, WFP has launched life-saving cash-based support in Juba for 13,000 families — approx. 52,000 people — who had lost their sources of livelihoods or have had their incomes slashed because of the pandemic. Food assistance is being provided to a further 70,000 people.

Poni uses some of the money she receives from WFP to restock her stall and increase her purchasing power to better provide for and protect her family.

“The pandemic has hurt my business,” says the 38-year-old mother of nine. “But with this cash assistance, I am safe and able to feed my children without losing my business”

“We are trying to make sure people are shock resistant by supporting them to be more productive so that they can look after themselves,” says Matthew Hollingworth WFP Country Director in South Sudan. “Unfortunately, there is an increase in the number of people in urban centers who previously we never had to support who are now our new beneficiaries that is very worrying.”

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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