In the town of Lag Bogol and the surrounding villages of Leheley, Boji Yareh and Boji Eyrib, we meet dozens of pastoralist “dropouts” — herders who have no more herds, and therefore are forced to “dropout” of their ancient way of life. To a college kid, dropping out may signal a certain lack of stick-to-it-tive-ness. Don’t misunderstand the term — these people have nothing but determination. Widows, women left on their own, orphans, elderly and babies, they are the most vulnerable of all. And still they persist.
The stories they tell us are similar in all but the particulars:
Our animals died. We had to walk a long way to get here. We came looking for help because we had nothing. We give thanks for the help we are receiving from Mercy Corps. But even this is not enough. Food is very expensive, and the aid we are receiving is only half of what we need.
Zaineb’s family had 50 cows. They all died. She has a few small goats left, but they are all too weak to give milk.
Neymouna has seven children. They share one meal a day, the food often borrowed from other families.
All of Fariya’s 40 cows died. Her husband took their five remaining goats in search of grazing land. She is here trying to survive until he returns.
Saadiya has three children. Only one of their nine cows is still alive – but barely. She never eats breakfast and often goes without lunch. Her husband is around, but without the animals he has no work to do.
Amina’s family had 20 goats. Her husband left her here to find food for them. She is alone with her two children. She depends on her neighbors for food.
Halima has six children. Of the family’s ten goats, only two survive. When asked what her family eats, she shrugs and says, “We just have to wait and see what we get each day.” All eight of them walked 110 km to reach this area, where assistance from others is their last resort.
As we gather to watch Leheley’s few remaining goats and donkeys drink up their daily ration of water that’s trucked here by Mercy Corps, a group of villagers come together and call out, “Asante, Mercy Corps!” — "Thank you."
Today is baking hot, dry as dust, not a cloud in the sky. If and when the rains come, life may slowly begin to get better. For now, Fariya and Saadiya and Zaineb are hoping that our generosity will keep them and their children alive.