Moments before the COVID pandemic hit, former Hythe resident Jenny Davies moved to the war-torn capital of South Sudan, Juba. Shortly after arriving in the Central African country, international borders closed with the aim of stopping the propagation of the deadly virus – but it made the decision to stay.
Working as a communications officer bringing together history for mission aviation fellowship – the world’s largest humanitarian air service – Jenny has witnessed the realities of violence, travel and poverty, which ravage the country during decades. She described the situation in the country as “fragile” and in her hometown of Juba where she lives on a fortified compound with a 7 p.m. curfew, she never escapes poverty.
“Poverty is everywhere, and MAF can’t meet all the needs, so it’s overwhelming at times,” she said. “The NGO community is doing a great job, but it’s like putting a bandage on an open wound. Take it out and it will continue to bleed. Some days I wonder if we are making a difference, but deep down I know we are. We unleash a great pot of need. »
The UN expressed concern last month about a return to civil war. Despite the threat of violence, Jenny said that she had never felt frightened since she moved to Juba, but the 41 -year -old said that she had heard “horrible stories”.
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She said: “I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been scared, but we’re working under pretty strict security parameters. On our flights, we always check the security situation in the places where we fly.
“All organizations working in Juba tend to have cover sheets for their staff which means no one is really on the road until 7.30-8pm. So those things can mean that it’s obviously possible to stay pretty safe, but you’re a bit more limited in your movements and what you can do. “
She added: “I hear horrible stories every day – for example that seven or eight women are admitted to the hospital in Juba every day because of a rape – but I have never been the subject threats.”
“I want to tell true stories”
Jenny has discovered a unique strength among South Sudanese that she wants to communicate in her work. One of her aims is to tell true stories and honor these people.
“I feel like a stranger watching. I want to tell real stories, not just what the West wants to hear. No one wants their culture to be an example of failure and South Sudan is full of potential. I want people to know that,” she said.
“What has surprised me most is how amazingly resilient people are. They have to deal with tough realities, but they do it with such grace. They live in conditions that most of us would struggle with, but they continue to live. Like anyone else, South Sudanese have hopes and aspirations for their children – and those children have such beautiful smiles. I love people, I love being part of a community in Juba and I love building relationships. Sometimes the sincerest thing you can do for someone is go to a funeral with them. That shows you care – it’s the hard reality of life.”
Reflecting on the more humorous contrasts between life on the Kent coast and in a war-torn African capital, Jenny recalls a day when she and a few colleagues decided to order a takeaway. “I volunteered to pick up pizzas for a large group of us – there were probably a dozen orders,” she said.
“But when I arrived to pick them up, the man behind the counter had stacked the pizzas and squeezed them into a single box. It was like pizza! I couldn’t bring myself to complain because I know he didn’t want to waste his pizza boxes. It made me smile because of course nothing like that would ever happen in England.
Although development is slow in South Sudan, Radisson announced in May 2022 that it had opened the country’s first five-star hotel in Juba, which, according to the boss of the Middle East and Radisson Africa, Tim Cordon, will be “a great addition to help promote the country’s hospitality offering – where safety and security will be a top priority.
“I now call him home”
As hospitality resumes in Juba and around the world in the aftermath of the pandemic, Jenny admits that Covid has had both positive and negative impacts on the country She said: “Handwashing stations in remote areas were irrelevant to Covid – but they helped reduce the diorama, which kills roughly 7,000 people every year in South Sudan. It’s hard to believe it took a pandemic to bring soap and water to a community – but it did in remote places.
“Health has improved in many ways as a result of covid – but the impact on rural development projects such as education and agriculture has been devastating. MAF was unable to fly passengers atop the lockdown, which meant aid workers couldn’t reach the most vulnerable places and many development projects came to a halt. This shows how much NGOs rely on MAF to facilitate their work. »
Summing up her job satisfaction over the past three years, Jenny says, “People are saying really warm things about MAF and they’re grateful for our consistent service. I love what MAF does – it’s unique, it’s practical and it’s important. I love flying – and look forward to continuing this great work when I return to Juba – which I now call home.