In Tarkeka, South Sudan, farmers wear skirts and pray for safety. Their task requires patience. Plants mature slowly. In that time, a lot can happen.

Mary has seen it.

She’s watched drought kill crops slowly. She’s seen armed herders drive livestock through farmland and trample plants. She’s seen farmers’ hard work set on fire.

Growing hope

She also knows the fierce joy and hope when green sprouts grow again.

Five years after South Sudan achieved independence, conflict still rages in the north. It drives families south, into villages where tension simmers. Tribes control resources. The UN says about 40 percent of people need food assistance. UNICEF reports that in some regions, one-third of children are malnourished — double the emergency threshold.

Most men in rural areas go to cities to look for work, leaving the women to grow food. It’s hard labor, and they’re vulnerable to dangers. But they’re strong. They’re the heads of their households. Mary proudly tells how they have value and status.

“Most men in rural areas go to cities to look for work, leaving the women to grow food.”

She is a member of parliament from this region. In 2015, Mary visited the fields. As they drove, the sky opened and, suddenly, they came across women and men in the road — dancing with joy for the pouring rain. Mary joined them, and they laughed and danced and sang as water drenched them. Mud swirled around the thirsty roots with the promise of life.

Organizing relief

Later, Mary explains how the women had gathered to form a community organization. They wrote proposals in the hope someone would help.

“I said, ‘The first thing that we want is seeds — to help the women,'” she recalls. The local relief office responded regardless of a difference in religion. Donors in the U.S. paid for seeds and equipment. Those seeds grew into the baby plants Mary was celebrating — sesame, beans and corn.

“God willing, next time you come, you can see it,” she says with a smile, fully aware that her little seedlings remain at risk as long as peace is uncertain. Danger isn’t far away. But for now, she dances.