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Liberia: Lost and alone in Bahn refugee camp

The journey begins with gunfire.

It rings out over a football pitch where boys play, or over a village where girls braid their hair, or in this case, a classroom where the lesson is underway.

The children have grown up in peaceful times but the teacher knows best. He hurries them out of the classroom, ushering them home to their parents.

When one child makes it home, his parents aren’t there. His little sisters are there though, crying. “Maybe the farm?” he thinks, grabbing the girls’ hands and setting off.

The village is in chaos, the gunshots are getting louder and families are rushing out into the streets. The boy pushes his way through the crowd; he makes it to the farm but his parents are gone.

I met 14-year-old Landry under a makeshift shelter here in Bahn refugee camp, in Liberia. Given what he’d endured to get here, it was a wonder he could tell me his story at all.

Landry doesn’t know what happened to his parents. He left home three months ago and hasn’t heard word of them since.

He and his sisters trekked along with others for three days through a child’s living nightmare. They slept in dark forests and crossed frightening rivers. They walked beneath the hot West African sun; they wore no shoes and had nothing to eat.

Stories like Landry’s aren’t uncommon here. Of the 1 million people displaced by the fighting in Ivory Coast so far, 500,000 are children. They arrive at the Liberian border every day.

A Save the Children colleague of mine told me about the recent case of a two-year-old girl who came in the arms of a tired woman who had found her screaming at the roadside.

Too young, the girl couldn’t speak her name or who her parents were. So, the lady carried her for two days and is still caring for her in Liberia. She has named the girl Carine, and I wonder if Carine will ever see her family again.

In any humanitarian emergency children will be vulnerable, but the way in which many can calmly and bravely speak of their experiences amazes me.

I try to remember how it felt when I got lost as a kid, only to be swept up in my mum’s arms a few minutes later. Some of these children have been lost for months in a strange place (called Bahn Refugee camp) miles from their home.

Mike Sunderland, Save the Children

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