Akech Dut Goch doesn’t know how old she is, but hazards a guess – that she is 100. She does look about a century old, as her face creases into a myriad of lines and her body appears skeletal. Her slight frame is probably wizened with age, but also from a meagre diet.
Yet Akech moves with a fluidity and grace unusual for a person even decades younger, and as we prepare her for the interview in the rural village of Jarweng, she folds her legs neatly beneath her, like a cat. She also radiates an air of quiet serenity. This is unusual, considering the depth of human suffering she has endured. Hers was a tough childhood, in which she buried her all of her six siblings. In a land so disfigured by war as this one, it is hard to say what they died of. Her last remaining brother was mercilessly gunned down in December 2013. It was during her childhood that she earned the title: Akech, which means orphan.
Akech never went to school and doesn’t know anyone who did. The reason for this was that her peers attended something far more centrally rooted in their culture – cattle camp.
Akech evades the questions of how many children she once had. The question obviously hits a raw nerve. When pressed, she reveals that she had six children, and only her daughter, Achol Agioch, reached adulthood. Achol has four grandchildren, who are Bul Tuch, aged ten, Dhieu Thuch, who is eight, and is living in Uganda, Panrach Thuch, aged six, and Nyagock Tuch, who is four.
In December 2015 they crossed the river to the other side to escape the fighting and fled to Mingkamen, as did thousands of others. The grandchildren’s parents were shot and killed during the clashes. She says a humanitarian organisation helped them to survive there. She says that they lived in Mingkamen “for a long time”. When they returned to their home, she said the village had become completely overgrown. When they slashed though the bush, they were dismayed to find that the house had been looted and destroyed, and that their beds had been carried away. Their tools for grinding sorghum had been stolen. Their situation was absolutely desperate.
They were supported as returnees and were given food by the WFP. They received 5kg of sorghum and one bottle of oil a month. This kept them alive. They also received non-food items such as, plastic sheets, water containers and soap.
Akech says that she remembers the JAM team coming to see them, but as her eyesight is fading, and she could could not make out the individual faces. She is so grateful that JAM paid for the house. Her eyes shine with pleasure as she explains that her grandchildren helped out with the construction. Now the neat and solid building sits proudly on the stand.
She speaks affectionately about JAM. “I am old and weak. I cannot look after my grandchildren, but I have this house,” she says through the interpreter. She says that the help offered to her by JAM has been a shining beacon of hope in her life.