Photo: © Till Muellenmeister
May 5 2014

South Sudan Update: One Month after Evacuation

`Home´, Healing and New Challenges for SOS Children

5 May 2014 - SOS children and families forced from their homes by armed conflict in Malakal, South Sudan, are beginning to put their lives back together in their new, temporary home. But every day brings new tests.

Since the SOS families were evacuated from Malakal, South Sudan, a month ago, they have settled well into their new environment in the capital city of Juba.

When they first arrived in Juba, after a frightening escape under threat of violence, most of the children were dehydrated; some had lost weight and were suffering from malnutrition.

Soon after their arrival in Juba all the children underwent a thorough medical check-up. There is now visible improvement in their general health and well-being.

All the children received head-to-toe health checks when they arrived in Juba after the difficult journey from Malakal. Photo: © Michelle D'Arcy

Programmes to help the families deal with the terror they experienced in Malakal have been ongoing. A counsellor from Nairobi has been living with the SOS families for the past month at their temporary home and has been instrumental in helping the children, young people and mothers process what they saw so they can begin to heal.

All children of school age are attending local schools: 28 are in Kindergarten; 57 are in primary; and 12 are in secondary.

However, with the changes come even more challenges for these children and mothers.

Kiros Aregawi, the project coordinator for SOS South Sudan, says managing the temporary home in Juba is expensive and complicated. For example the septic tank has to be emptied daily to avoid overflow; fuel costs are running high because of the need for a generator to pump enough water; the village car was stolen by rebels in Malakal, so a vehicle had to be hired to transport the children to school and to take mothers to the market. 

Kiros is also concerned about the house the children are living in: “Although it is safe enough for the moment, all of the children are confined to one big house and I feel that in case of a communicable disease breakout, it would be hard to control due to the close proximity of the families. The children also lack enough room to play; and the situation in South Sudan is not conducive to raising children.”

SOS children and mothers from Malakal are making the best of their new, temporary home in Juba, but it is not easy to manage family life far from home and with few resources. Photo: © Kalaya Fiseha

Search for two missing children

Two children, ages 5 and 12, who were reported missing directly after the evacuation from Malakal, unfortunately remain missing at this time. SOS Children´s Villages in South Sudan have interviewed families and staff and Malakal villagers for any information about these children, including where they were last seen and where they might have gone in the turmoil of the escape. Photos of the two children have been distributed throughout the areas where it is assumed they may have gone. In addition, SOS Children´s Villages colleagues in South Sudan have contacted the Child Protection Department of Unicef and are also working with Intersos, a humanitarian organisation which conducts searches for children and parents or guardians separated from each other during crises.

History of turmoil in South Sudan

Fighting erupted in mid-December between troops supporting President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to sacked deputy Riek Machar. Thousands of people have been killed and more than a million have fled their homes and are seeking shelter in UN bases.

What started as a political falling out has taken on ethnic dimensions and resulted in heightened tensions between the country’s main ethnicities: the Dinka and the Nuer.

During the seizing of Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity State, on 20 April, fighters loyal to Machar systematically hunted down and slaughtered men, women and children sheltering in hospitals, churches and mosques based on their nationality and ethnicity.

The United Nations said the massacre left over 200 people dead. Bentiu is about 650 km from Juba.

Virginia Ndungu, SOS Children’s Villages Eastern Africa Donor Services Coordinator was in Juba a week ago. She said the city was quiet but that there was a lot of uncertainty: “People are afraid; they are apprehensive; nobody knows what will happen.” She added: “There is hope that the international community will do something to stop the crisis but it is more of a wait-and-see situation.