Armed soldiers, a crocodile-infested river and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
These obstacles were just a few of those that Isaac Adowk had to face during his 124-mile journey—made mostly on foot—to save 33 children from SOS Children’s Village Malakal in South Sudan.
In recognition of his bravery and service to SOS Children’s Villages, the organization recently awarded Isaac the 2015 Helmut Kutin Award.
Isaac, 28, was a Youth Leader in Malakal when fighting broke out between anti-government forces and pro-government troops in December 2013. He subsequently took the responsibility for protecting the inhabitants.
In mid-February 2014, Isaac took advantage of a lull in the fighting and evacuated 41 children, youth, mothers and aunts to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. But increased tension made further evacuations impossible.
The SOS Village in Makalal, South Sudan, which was evacuated in March 2014 and overtaken by opposition fighters.
It was during heavy fighting on 18 February 2014 that Isaac and 33 children were separated from the rest of the village. They were forced to flee across the Nile. A number of youth swam to the other side, while the smaller children were placed in boats.
When Isaac realized there was no room for him, he jumped into the river with some supplies on his back and protectively held onto the edge of a boat. Some children and youth were taken by relatives, but Isaac was left with 23 children, including a 2-year-old.
As they embarked on their long journey to safety, Isaac and the children faced many problems such as finding food and safe places to sleep. The dangers they faced along the way included: being killed or wounded, girls falling victim to sexual abuse or rape, and boys being taken and recruited by armed forces.
More than two weeks after they set off, the group safely reached the small town of Palouch, from where they were evacuated to the new emergency SOS Children’s Village in Juba. Isaac was also reunited with his own wife and two small children, whom he had sent away to relatives.
Even before the conflict started, Isaac was an outstanding leader. He supports SOS mothers in their homes, helps young people with the transition from the village to the youth facility and sometimes acts as Village Director. He is respected by the youth, who listen to his advice and guidance.