The loneliness of COVID-19 – Maria’s story
The civil war in South Sudan has left more than seven million people, or about two-thirds of the population, in dire need of help. The conflict has ravaged the economy and weakened the health system. Now, coronavirus is exasperating the situation, leaving older people vulnerable and lonely.
Maria, who is thought to be around 90, lives alone in Don Bosco IDP (Internally displaced people) camp in Juba. She doesn’t know her exact age but has lived through all civil wars in South Sudan and is the only one remaining from her generation in the area.
After the end of the first civil war, Maria and her husband returned from a camp for displaced people to her village where she began cultivating the land. But peace was short-lived and war broke out again.
"When I received the news that my children died in the war I almost hanged myself. But the people around me convinced me to continue living".
Maria relied on her neighbours who had also lost children to the war. Hunger and war struck the land again in 2013. There was no food and the land was not good enough for planting. For the first time, Maria decided to leave her land for the IDP Camp in Juba, capital city of South Sudan.
"Living as a displaced person is hard, especially for older people as sometimes you need something, but you can wait a long time until someone decides to help you."
Maria has lived in the camp for four years and told us that since the outbreak of COVID-19 her life has become very lonely.
"I was too fearful of the coronavirus because I was thinking 'how will I survive?’. I have stayed inside my house for almost four months without talking to anybody, and to go and fetch water I waited until there were few people around and then came back inside."
During the outbreak of COVID-19 Maria survived by picking a few vegetables for cooking, too afraid to go out.
For very vulnerable and lonely older people like Maria, Age International (with our partners HelpAge International and HDC) is a lifeline. Our team of community outreach volunteers have been visiting 1,000 older people like Maria to provide emotional support and ensure they have what they need during the pandemic. We have also been providing food, clean water and hygiene items, as well as cash assistance to the most vulnerable older people.
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Older people in the poorest parts of the world affected by conflict or living in refugee camps need help urgently to survive the silent threat of COVID-19.