On National Siblings Day, Meet Khamisa: Refugee and Provider for Her Family

Photo: WFP/Belinda Popovska
World Food Programme
Published April 9, 2021

White Nile State is home to a large population of South Sudanese refugees. In the first half of 2019, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) supported 387,000 refugees across Sudan with the majority of food contributions from USAID. More than half of them are women. The U.N. World Food Programme encourages women decision-making power at home by issuing monthly food ration cards in their names. This is one of their stories.

Gripping her food distribution card between her teeth, Khamisa John Adiand, 19, lines up to collect fortified cooking oil — part of her monthly ration from the U.N. World Food Programme. She hides behind other women, trying to remain unnoticed. The slightly tattered card has punched holes for every month she’s collected food for her parents and four siblings.

Every month Khamisa, who wants to become a doctor, walks from her family’s shelter to the U.N. World Food Programme distribution center in Alagaya Camp, White Nile State. As one of the lead females in the house, after her mother of course, she has been given the responsibility of collecting the family’s monthly food entitlements.

refugees sort through bags of food
Photo: WFP/Belinda Popovska

Women grip ration cards between their teeth. The U.N. World Food Programme gives women decision-making powers at home by issuing monthly food ration cards in their names

While her former country is just across the border some 20 miles away, Khamisa has had no choice but to make peace with her new “temporary home.” She arrived at Alagaya refugee camp five years ago with her parents and siblings, searching for safety and clinging to one another. With memories as wide as Khamisa’s smile, she describes the home she left behind.

“I’m from the Shilluk people and we speak the Shilluk language. I am from Upper Nile State. Home is close by, but it feels so long ago,” she says. “I remember the fertile land and the beautiful trees. I remember dancing with friends, the peace before the war.”

Her responsibility to collect food for herself and her siblings is part of a broader initiative by the U.N. World Food Programme. It aims to encourage women to be the primary holders of food-ration cards, empowering them to collect vital food supplies independently. This gives them full entitlements to monthly household food stocks and helps to acknowledge the important role they can play in managing food security on behalf of the family. It’s also a subtle way of shifting cultural norms. But of course, these things take time.

women and children smile
Photo: WFP/Belinda Popovska

The U.N. World Food Programme, through USAID support, remains a life-line for Khamisa and many more.

“I like to cook for the family. When I become a doctor, I will be able to cook fish for the family. Fish on charcoal and firewood, it tastes really good.” Having second thoughts, she laughs and says, “Maybe I will no longer have to cook, I can hire a cook for my family.”

Big dreams sweep through Khamisa, her brothers, and her sisters, with clear hopes of returning home. “When there is peace, I will go home and help South Sudan improve health conditions. As a doctor, I could help many people, not just my family.”

many refugees sit outside
Photo: WFP/Belinda Popovska

In the first half of this year, the U.N. World Food Programme has supported 387,000 refugees across Sudan.

Sudan is currently hosting the largest population of South Sudanese refugees in the region — with a population of 850,000 continually displaced from civil conflict. Many have sought shelter in Sudan’s White Nile State. With contributions from USAID, the U.N. World Food Programme continues to support refugees with basic food supplies including a combination of cereals, grains, oil and salt.

women stand on line for food
Photo: WFP/Belinda Popovska

USAID grains stacked as women wait to collect their family share. Issuing ration cards in women’s names gives them the entitlement to the whole household monthly food stock.

A recent monitoring and evaluation study from April to July concluded that out of the 1,085 refugees surveyed across Sudan, an average of 68 percent holding ration cards for food assistance are women. Additionally, we know that more women are taking the lead in collecting food from U.N. World Food Programme distribution centers. Ultimately, encouraging more women to make decisions supports the broader goal of having more even decision-making across households.

There are currently 1.1 million refugees in Sudan, mostly from neighboring countries. For many fleeing across borders, the basic human right to food is often the first step to safety.

Read more about the U.N. World Food Programme’s work in South Sudan.

This story was originally written by Belinda Popovska and appeared on WFP’s blog.