African baby named NIRAS
Four-month-old baby Niras
Meet newborn Niras Ihiteng

What's in a name?

This past June, a family in Torit, South Sudan, christened their newborn "Niras" in appreciation of the positive impact stemming from a six-year Dutch-funded integrated water resources management project

Somewhere in Egypt, there is a little girl called "Facebook" in recognition of the social media giant’s role in the Arab Spring uprisings. In New Zealand, the provenance of a set of twins called "Benson and Hedges" is perhaps slightly less illustrious but done tongue-in-cheek. Oliver "Google" Kai’s Swedish mother and father named their son with the expectation he would be smart and “know a lot of stuff”.

Parents name their children for all kinds of things, after family or celebrity, out of faith, from events surrounding the birth, and sometimes in gratitude.

Meet "Niras" Ihiteng, born this past June in Torit, South Sudan.

Promoting food security and economic development

“Before I received the chickens and learned to keep poultry, our family situation was very bad. I promised myself when things got better I would have another child. I wished for a baby boy and if that came to pass, I would call him after NIRAS,” says Emelda Jokudu, mother to the four-month-old.

Emelda is a member of Generation Poultry Group, a village savings and loan association (VSLA) in Torit, one of several youth and women-centred groups that NIRAS assisted in establishing as part of its mandate in the Dutch-funded Water for Eastern Equatoria project which ran from November 2013 until October 2019.

The overall aim of the project was to contribute to enhanced food security and an equitable and sustained economic development through integrated water resource management. With the outbreak of war in 2013 and again in 2016, the team had to adapt to the reality of the situation. As part of the new approach, quick-impact interventions were implemented to improve livelihoods for those who remained and later for supporting returnees who had fled the violence. One such intervention was the introduction of scavenging poultry to women’s groups. Although short-term in nature, such practical interventions usually sustain success in the longer-term thanks to hands-on skills-building and the creation of pathways toward other opportunities.

At that time, we had no income,” Emelda explains. “The children were often sent home from school because we couldn’t pay the fees. We never had enough money for medicine and even buying food in the market was difficult. But after the training on poultry keeping, I got 11 birds. I sold a few chickens and most of the eggs in the market and allowed some to hatch. The situation at home quickly improved and continues to do so. Today I sold three chickens.

Emelda Jokudu

Each VSLA member received 11 pullets (young hens).

Taking their future into their own hands

Like other VSLAs in Torit, in addition to honey and soap production training, all of the women in Generation Poultry Group received poultry keeping training, and two-month-old, vaccinated, free-range scavenging birds, which require minimum care and grow to a large size. Unlike in the past where they were imported from Uganda, today most of the eggs in Torit market are produced locally. Many have hatched and this has had a multiplier effect, providing an overall improvement in the gene pool of indigenous chickens as well as community income and nutrition. Although the group had started as a ”person-to-person” lending body prior to the project, following training and leadership reorganisation support, members established by-laws and shares in a common social fund, growing membership from 10 to 29 participants.

Initially Emelda wanted to call the baby “Justine of NIRAS” after Justine Unzima a young man with a Business Development Advisor background, who NIRAS employed as a team member to promote private sector development and build local capacity. Justine has been involved in mentoring the youth and VSLA groups. While Emelda’s husband, Emmanuel, supported her suggestion, he thought the child should be called simply Niras. A humble person with a wife of his own, Justine was relieved when he heard the decision.

It appears the name Niras is growing in popularity in Torit as well as Kapoeta, the other state where the project focused mostly on water for productive use in livestock. Several cows have been christened with the moniker and recently the State Minister of Agriculture reported hearing a mother shout the name when calling to a small child.

“I must say I was flattered when I heard this story,” Ole Stokholm Jepsen, NIRAS project team leader, said. “It’s nice that NIRAS is recognised for our work, but really the credit goes to the South Sudanese all of whom shared responsibility for and took ownership of the interventions which they implemented with our guidance.

"This is still a fragile environment, but people now believe they themselves can improve their livelihoods and develop their resources with the use of water and a range of alternative livelihood interventions including, quick, medium- and long-term initiatives."

Before pullet distribution