2 July 2014 - To mark the Day of the African Child on 16 June, children from all over South Sudan marched through the capital city, Juba, and urged their leaders to find a speedy solution to the conflict that has displaced over one million people and disrupted their lives for the past six months. After marching through the streets, the children read a poem describing their experience:
“Imagine: We were preparing for Christmas, but received war;
We were expecting to celebrate Easter, but our streets were filled
with noises of battle and rumors of war.
Streams of children from other states filled Juba with sad stories, and falling tears.
The fear in their eyes told what they could not say with words:
They saw killing and rape during the war.”
Despite two ceasefire agreements signed by the warring factions in January and May, sporadic shootings and violent clashes continue to be reported in the Jonglei and Upper Nile states of South Sudan. The two principal antagonists, President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, met in early June in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and agreed to fully commit to the already signed peace deals; they promised to complete all negotiations in the next 60 days, after which they would form a transitional government of national unity.
East African countries have threatened to slap them with sanctions if they fail to uphold their pledge and stop all military attacks. Since the conflict began nearly six months ago, over one million people have been internally displaced and more than 300,000 have crossed the border to neighbouring countries.
Children and families from the SOS Children’s Village in Malakal are among those who were forced to evacuate their village, under threats of violence from rebel fighters. The SOS families have been living in temporary accommodations in Juba, while it appears that the rebels have taken over their village.
Photojournalist Till Muellenmeister has been documenting the experiences of the SOS families in South Sudan since before the conflict began. After a recent visit to Malakal, Mr Muellenmeister said: “The SOS Children’s Village Malakal has been overrun by opposition fighters – at least what is left of it. The once loving home for children in South Sudan has been looted to its core and lies in ruins; roofs are crumpling, furniture is broken, personal effects are strewn all over. The village has been stripped of its beauty and serenity; what is left is a shell, completely un-inhabitable.”
Armed rebel soldier sits outside building in the now destroyed SOS Children's Village in Malakal. The children and families were forced to leave their home. Photo: Till Muellenmeister.
The former living spaces of the SOS families have been looted and destroyed. Photo: Till Muellenmeister.
Plans to move the SOS families from Malakal to the SOS Children’s Village in Gulu, Uganda, for up to 18 months, to pave way for construction of a new village in Juba, have been dealt a major blow. The governor of Upper Nile State, under whose jurisdiction Malakal falls, has categorically denied SOS Children’s Villages permission to relocate the children. The families’ temporary accommodations in Juba are not viable in the long-term due to their high cost. SOS co-workers are urgently seeking alternative solutions to give these children and families a permanent home again.
Girl helps with chores, outside temporary accommodations in Juba. Photo: Till Muellenmeister.
Despite being forced to flee their home, these children can still find reasons to smile. Photo: Till Muellenmeister.
For the latest news and related stories on what SOS Children's Villages is doing to help in South Sudan, click here.