5 August 2014

South Sudan celebrates independence, but children's futures hang in balance

5 August 2014 - With no permanent home in site, SOS Children’s Villages proceeds with construction of a temporary village for refugee children and families from Malakal, South Sudan.

Despite political and ethnic polarisation that has plagued South Sudan for the last six months, the youngest country in the world celebrated three years of independence on 9 July 2014. The streets of the capital, Juba, were lined with troops singing and dancing, carrying banners proclaiming "One People, One Nation".

The world's most fragile state

Meanwhile aid agencies have sounded the alarm that the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, in which close to 5 million people are in need of food assistance, could worsen if the widening funding gap is not plugged with urgency. South Sudan has topped the list as the world’s most fragile state in the world in the 2014 Fragile States Index prepared by Fund for Peace, a U.S.-based research organization.

Yet despite their desperate situations South Sudanese found the spirit to celebrate their young country’s independence. Even children from SOS Children’s Villages Malakal, who had to make a terrifying escape from their homes in December 2013, under threat from armed rebels, celebrated at their temporary lodgings in Juba. Some children followed the proceedings on television, small children took part in fun activities like face painting, while some young people attended celebrations at the Freedom Square where President Salva Kiir was addressing the nation.

In his speech, the president called on his opponents to return to the negotiating table to find a lasting peaceful solution to the country’s political crisis.
 
A new temporary village
 
Although the future in South Sudan remains uncertain, SOS Children’s Villages is proceeding with the construction of a new temporary village to house the children and families from Malakal, as rebel and government forces have made their old village uninhabitable.

Land in the village of Korok, about 20 minutes from Juba city centre, has been leased for two years, allowing for the construction of a temporary village. The new settlement will consist of 15 traditional houses -- 11 SOS family houses, two youth houses, one house for aunts, and one house for the Village Director. There will be a set of six shared bathroom amenities (each with 4 singles) and eight shared external kitchen areas. The homes will be made of wood and mud, and roofed with iron sheets, like other houses commonly found in rural villages in South Sudan. Building is already underway.

Plan for the new, temporary SOS Children's Village in Korok, which will house the children and families from Malakal for 12-18 months. Photo: SOS Archives.

“We really needed to find a solution for our families,” said Wilhelm Huber, regional director for East Africa.
 
Attempts to move the families to a safe, stable, new home in Uganda failed. “The more we went from ministry to ministry trying to obtain travel permits and identity cards for every child, the more we came across red tape and blockage. Nobody is ready to take decisions, nobody cares about 100 children or families; they [government officials] have their heads buried in sorting out the crisis the country is facing right now,” Mr Huber said.

One of the wood and mud temporary homes now under construction. The SOS families will move in mid-August. Photo: SOS Archives.

 

The families will live in the temporary village for about 12-18 months, during which time a new SOS Children’s Village in the country will be constructed.

“The area is secure enough – even the UN has offices in the vicinity and their staff reside there,” Mr Huber said. “Our children will be safe here and will also have ample space to play and run around.”

The project should be completed within a month; families are to start moving into their new homes before 10 August, when the lease of their temporary lodgings in Juba expires.