Gale JUBA(Xinhua) -- The cemetery, situated at Konyo
Konyo, in the heart of Juba, was meant to be the resting place
for residents who’ve passed away in the South Sudanese capital.
However, the graveyard has become a
comfort zone to thousands of people who flocked to the capital
before or after the east African country gained independence in
2011 and ended up with nowhere to live.
“I used to fear staying with dead
people, but because I have nowhere to go, I have become a
friend of our departed brothers and sisters for all these
years,” 45-year-old Raymondo Modi told Xinhua.
Modi, a father of 10 children, ended
up seeking shelter at the burial ground after he was evicted
from a rental house on the outskirt of Juba. He had failed to
meet the cost.
Originally from Terekeka, an area 50
miles outside Juba, Modi moved his family to the capital hoping
that new opportunities would come his way.
To his astonishment, things did not
work out and he was left with no option other than seeking
refuge in the graveyard.
“I have named this cemetery St. Mary
village to help me remember the church I used to pray in, in
my village in Terekeka,” Modi said.
Peddling firewood to earn a living,
the self-styled leader of about 3,000 residents of the graveyard
said he makes between 50 and 100 South Sudanese pounds (between
0.3 and 0.6 U.S. dollars) a day.
With a biting economic crisis, he and
his family are forced to take one simple meal a day, Modi said.
“We can’t afford to buy meat and fish
because everything is expensive,” Modi said.
Lack of clean water and inadequate
medical and education services make it even harder for Modi and
“Life has become more difficult for
the community compared to the early days when I settled
here,” he said.
Like Modi, many people who moved to
Juba from neighboring areas have ended up in the graveyard under
James Legge, a father of 12, has spent
14 years at the cemetery after retiring from the army. Legge
said the government has failed to pay his retirement package and
he was no longer working.
South Sudan is engulfed in a civil war
that began in December 2013, killing tens of thousands
displacing millions of others.
According to aid organizations
operating in the African nation, six million people, half the
population of South Sudan, is severely food insecure.
Thousands have flocked to the capital
from the hinterlands, expecting to find a little relief but have
to end up hustling for life.
“This place is bad. There are a lot of
diseases. People are dying every day but since I don’t have
anywhere to go, I have decided that I die here and join my
brothers,” said 24-year-old Maria Poni, who has spent 12
years at the burial ground.
“The government is free to take my
children out of this place, but I’m not leaving because this
is my home,” said the mother of four.
Poni is but one example of South
Sudanese citizens bearing the brunt of a four-year old conflict
that has caused one of the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian
“If the government can reason that
they have people suffering in Juba, then I’m hopeful that
one day I will go home and live a decent live with my
children in the village,” said 70-year-old Evelyna Kaku,
another graveyard dweller. “But with what is happening now,
I don’t think I will ever see home.”