The flames of a more than 2-year-old civil war in South Sudan were reignited last month in the capital city of Juba. Tens of thousands of Sudanese have fled the country since the new round of violence.
On July 11, the SOS Children’s Village (SOS) in Juba was forced to evacuate as a result of heavy violence in the area. It was the second time the children were forced to relocate because of the civil war. The first time occurred in 2014, when the original SOS Village in South Sudan—which was opened shortly after South Sudan gained independence in 2011—was evacuated.
Below, Alberto Fait, our project coordinator for SOS South Sudan, talks about how the children in our care have been faring during these uncertain times.
It has been more than two years since conflict erupted in South Sudan. How has this affected SOS families and children in general?
The situation in [SOS Children’s Village] Malakal in 2014 was traumatic. Imagine having to run for your life from the comfort of your home. It is not an experience you can easily forget.
Then-Village Director Akwoch Ayang plays with two children at SOS Children’s Village Malakal, which was evacuated in 2014 because of the civil war. Photo taken in 2013 by Conor Ashleigh.
I must say the co-workers were fantastic and managed to take everyone to safety. The families then came to live in Juba in the temporary village and the children adapted very well and returned to school. I was happy to see how the mothers were taking care of the children, how clean the village was, and how happy the children were. The atmosphere was fantastic.
Then it happened again [in July 2016]. They had to run for their lives, they had to leave everything behind; utensils, mattresses, money, laptops, office equipment and food were lost. Everything was lost—except life.
The children need counselling, as do the mothers. We are partnering with a local NGO that offers emotional care.
To what extent has the most recent conflict affected SOS operations in South Sudan?
Before the recent conflict in Juba, we were looking at expanding our activities—for example, starting a family strengthening program. But that has now been put on hold.
The priority at the moment is to make sure our children are safe and comfortable. We have relocated the children to two temporary houses, and they seem to have settled in. They are smiling and this is encouraging for the staff. We are all concerned about the stability of the country.
How many children are there in Juba?
Today, there are 86 children and 44 young people who are cared for by 10 mothers, nine aunts and 16 staff. Twenty-four young people are housed in a boarding school, and the remaining children are accommodated at two houses rented by SOS Children’s Villages.
Is there a play area for the children? And what about school?
There is no play area for the children in the compound, but we have an arrangement to make use of a sports ground close by. Yes, the children are going to school. The little ones, who used to go to the daycare center, have stopped attending because the school is in an area that is not deemed safe for now. So at certain times of day the toddlers play at the sports ground accompanied by their day care teachers.
Considering that South Sudan is still unstable, what short-term emergency plans have been put in place?
The short-term plan is to properly set up and equip the two houses we have moved into. To do that, we have done the following:
- Bought what was needed like mattresses, cleaning materials, food, pots and the necessary utensils to make food for the children;
- Received assistance such as blankets, buckets, mosquito nets and some food from UNICEF and the World Health Organization;
- Embarked on stocking food and drinking water to last for at least two weeks;
- Moved the generator from the [damaged] village to the houses, and stocked up on fuel; and
- We are setting up a dispensary and looking to recruit another nurse to make sure we have sufficient medical assistance available. Doctors without Borders will provide specialized care if need be.
Beyond that we have launched an emergency plan and humanitarian appeal to allow SOS Children’s Villages to lead humanitarian relief efforts.
When would you expect the SOS families to return to the village?
We have sent a team to evaluate the situation on the ground and to determine when it might be possible to return. When it is safe, the team will start cleaning the village and assess the damage so that we can start the restoration. We hope to return as soon as the situation allows.
UNICEF has warned of an increasing risk of cholera in South Sudan. What are we doing to keep the children safe?
The mothers were very good at keeping their houses in the village clean. In the temporary accommodation, cleanliness and hygiene are upheld. We are also ensuring that our children are vaccinated against the disease.
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