International Rescue Committee (IRC) Ambassador and actress Ebony Obsidian recently concluded a visit to South Sudan where she witnessed the country’s mounting humanitarian needs and the impacts of the climate crisis.  Her desire to  visit South Sudan was driven by urgent issues affecting the country, efforts made by the IRC in response, and her personal connection to the region. As a first-generation American with Eritrean roots, this was Ebony’s  first trip to the region, ultimately emphasizing a story of contemplation and learning. 

During her five day visit, Ebony witnessed firsthand the IRC’s emergency response in addressing South Sudan’s compounding crisis, and met with clients experiencing inequities in health, economic opportunities and protection. Some of the clients Ebony met were a part of the IRC’s Women Protection and Empowerment, Economic Recovery, and Legal Assistance programs as well as the IRC’s malnutrition clinic at Bunj Hospital.  She visited IRC facilities across Don Bosco and Maban that are responding in the hardest to reach communities in South Sudan. Ebony also visited IRC programs that provide women and children with access to healthcare, livelihood opportunities and response to gender-based violence, including rape, physical assault, abuse and denial of economic protection.

South Sudan’s current humanitarian response plan estimates that 9.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and highlights the need for a further $792.8 million in funding this year. Additionally, 7.8 million people will face crisis levels of food insecurity in 2023. Funding is essential for providing life-saving nutrition services to thousands of children and women arriving from Sudan with moderate and severe acute malnutrition and  ensuring access to adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene services and facilities. 

Disruptions in cross-border trade and humanitarian corridors due to the conflict in Sudan have led to soaring prices of essential goods. Since the escalation of violence in Sudan on April 15, 2023, South Sudan has received more than 320,000 South Sudanese who had sought refuge in Sudan, as well as Sudanese refugees and some third country nationals crossing the border. Prior to the conflict, the nation was already hosting over 330,000 refugees, exacerbating a strained humanitarian system. This has worsened food insecurity and compounded acute humanitarian needs for both the existing population and new arrivals. 

Caroline Sekyewa, Country Director of IRC in South Sudan said,

“We were honored to have welcomed Ebony on her first international trip with the IRC. Ebony was able to meet the inspiring humanitarians, and seeing first hand just how much they pour into programs that support women and children, from Dr Winston Wangwe at the Bunj Hospital working on the frontlines of a massive malnutrition crisis, to meeting a farmer named Kamal Osman Daud, or Hibba and her daughter Sabrina who were forcibly displaced by the conflict, the IRC mission to rebuild people's lives continues to inspire hope. The crisis in Sudan has exacerbated South Sudan’s already fragile humanitarian situation and requires urgent funding. It is vital that the international community does not forget the needs of South Sudan and the region and leave its communities behind.”

IRC Ambassador, Ebony Obsidian added,

“My visit to South Sudan speaks to how the IRC is a force for positive change. With people in all corners of the world working diligently, efficiently, and creatively to bring stability to the lives of those whose realities have been shaken to the core. I have witnessed, with my own eyes, the empowerment their programs are cultivating and the spiral effect of gratitude, confidence, and self sufficiency they leave in their wake. To be on this side of change making, with this organization, is a privilege.”

South Sudan is one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, which exacerbates its vulnerabilities as a conflict-affected state. Conflict-affected, climate-vulnerable countries like South Sudan face a massive climate injustice as they are the least responsible but most affected by the climate crisis. These countries account for less than 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but nearly 44% of all people affected by natural disasters over the past three years. 

Ebony's timely visit concluded ahead of the international food security summit to be held in the United Kingdom on 20th November and the Conference of Parties (COP28) in the United Arab Emirates on 30th November. Ahead of  both summits, the IRC is urging world leaders to scale proven, cost-saving solutions and prioritise the programmatic and funding needs of the most climate-vulnerable, conflict-affected countries, which includes South Sudan. 

About Ebony Obsidian

Ebony Obsidian is a first generation American actress with East African and West Indian roots. She is best known for her work in Golden Globe nominated film, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Emmy winning Netflix series, “Master of None,” the current highest-rated scripted TV show on cable among Black Americans, BET’s “Sistas,” and more. Inspired by her family's experience through the longest recorded war in Africa, the civil war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, to their arrival in New York; Ebony joined the IRC team in 2021. Her mother was monumentally encouraging of her daughter's venture into the humanitarian space and was even present for the first meeting with the organization. In 2023, Ebony’s mother passed away, only fueling her efforts to learn more about how she can be of use to refugees and immigrants both here in the United States and abroad. In Ebony’s own words, “the IRC is an organization that doesn’t create dependency on its aid, but instead, works with refugees to create foundations for life moving forward. They are hands-on and efficient. The IRC is family.”  

The IRC Response in South Sudan 

In South Sudan, the IRC supports people impacted by conflict and crisis, including women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, refugees, mixed populations and host communities. It provides an integrated health, nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program and also provides child protection services and comprehensive women and girls’ protection and empowerment services including to gender-based violence (GBV) survivors.

About the International Rescue Committee (IRC)

The International Rescue Committee is a global humanitarian organisation dedicated to helping people affected by conflict and disaster. With programs in more than 50 countries, the IRC provides lifesaving assistance to those in need and advocates for the rights and well-being of all people.