South Sudan five years on
Five years on from the creation of South Sudan and children still the most at risk.
With rival factions fighting in South Sudan, it is the lives of the most vulnerable, especially children and girls, that are the most at risk.
Yet there are those working against the odds. I am touched by the stories of some of the refugees we have supported with their education and our approach. Take Halima Mustafa for example. She is a South Sudanese refugee who settled in a refugee camp in Uganda, in 2014. Surrounded by the laughing children she cares for, Halima’s beaming smile belies the personal cost of a crisis that has beset her country, the newest nation on earth.
A single mother to her three children, Halima has no certainty of a reunion with her husband left behind in South Sudan. Her commitment as a lone parent inspired her to sign up as a volunteer caregiver for the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) programme, supported in an Ethiopian refugee camp by Plan International.
She works with the children for four hours, escorting them back home at the end of the morning session. During her time at the centre, Halima uses local materials like clay, bottle tops, empty tins and toys made out of rags to engage the children in play, writing, singing, literacy and numeracy.
“My love for children comes from the struggle the children are going through. I wanted to ensure that the children, some of whom do not have both parents, can still enjoy early childhood education like other children in normal environments,” says Halima.
Five years after the creation of South Sudan, millions of displaced refugees, especially children are in need of our support, after the fledgling country was plunged into internal conflict.
About 2.25 million refugees have been displaced – that’s one in five people from South Sudan. About 1.61 million have been displaced in the country itself, with the remaining 720,000 fleeing to in neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan.
Tragically, as with most humanitarian crises, children are some of the most badly affected. According to the UN, one in every three schools in South Sudan has been destroyed, damaged, occupied or closed. Of the near quarter of a million refugees that have fled to Ethiopia, 70 per cent are children and many have very limited access to education.
As Daniel Muchena, our Country Director in South Sudan, says: "At times like this, children suffer as their families run away to safety. Not only are children psychologically traumatised by conflict, but their futures are affected as they cannot go to school.”
He adds: “All children need to have access to education. In South Sudan, the entire education system has been severely affected. The international humanitarian response in South Sudan needs to prioritise measures that ensure that education services are provided and that measures are taken to enable children, particularly girls, to access and stay in education.”
Plan International has been supporting child refugees with education and child protection programmes like the one Halima has been involved in, as well as supporting traumatised children with psychosocial support and reuniting separated or unaccompanied children with their families. The latter is especially important for girls who are often vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
But, we need to reach thousands more children who are currently out of school, especially girls, who are more at risk of leaving school altogether than boys. This is why I urge you to find out more about what we are doing in South Sudan and to support our on-going work with South Sudanese refugees.
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