Life at the Cattle Camp — A South Sudan Photo Essay

By John Julian

In November, thousands of cattle, and their minders, are on the move in South Sudan, heading for swampy areas where there is  enough water and grass to sustain the herds through the long dry season. After days or weeks on the move, they assemble in mobile cattle camps that will be home until the rains come again in April or May. The camp featured here is in the Thiek Thou region of Warrap State.



The camp is largely inhabited by young people — adolescent boys and girls and young men — who rig makeshift mosquito nets and sleep in the midst of the tethered cattle.  Most of the older men and women stay behind to look after the homesteads.



There are a few elders about — providing leadership and guidance.

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Wol Deng                                            Anynat

And there are also children.  Even toddlers are sent to the camp.  Milk is the one food that herding people can count on, and most inhabitants of the camp live on little else.  Parents know that their children will not go hungry if they stay close to the cattle. Children too small for other duties — such as this little girl  — are in charge of the little ones.



Milking is the responsibility of the older girls who move though the herd with their gourds, milking cows where they stand.

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Children gather the manure and spread it out to dry.  It is burned in smoldering fires designed to keep mosquitos and the tsetse fly at bay.  The many fires scattered throughout the camp mean that life is often lived through a smoky haze.


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Young men take great pride in their animals — particularly the bulls they are given to raise when they are boys. Those special bulls are trained to respond to specific songs, or to follow their masters through the camp to the sound of a drum.

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Cattle raids are a right of passage for young men. But the deadly firepower available from successive waves of conflict in South Sudan has made the raids much more lethal, raising the body count for combattants and for bystanders, including children and animals.  In January of 2016 camp leaders in the area along the border between Warrap and Unity States agreed to a cattle raid truce.  The agreement was still holding in mid-March, though young men remained armed and vigilant.

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With so many people and animals living in such close proximity, an outbreak of disease could have deadly consequences for both.  With funding support from Veterinarians without Borders Canada,  a community animal health team from VSF Germany visits regularly and has vaccinated nearly all of the animals in the camp.   Below, Community Animal Health Worker Akot treats a sick calf.



Animal health care in the cattle camps is just one activity in a program funded by Gobal Affairs Canada designed to improve food security in two regions of the country.  With the rainy season fast approaching VWB/VSF Canada and its partners VSF Germany and VSF Suisse are working hard to gather seeds and tools to increase the production of vegetables and cereals during the upcoming growing season. As many as 2.8 million people in South Sudan are facing food shortages this year — a direct result of the ongoing conflict in the region. The project includes the distribution of ox ploughs and training in their use so that small holders can substantial increase their crop acreage. Families will also receive chickens and training in poultry production. Monique Charron is VWB/VSF’s Senior Project Manager in charge of the South Sudan Project and John Bosco Wale is South Sudan Programme Manager.