South Sudan: We wait and hope there will be peace
Yvonne is a Child Protection Emergency Response Personnel working in South Sudan.
Right before Yvonne was sent to the field for a routine assessment, violence broke out in Jonglei State.
She was redirected to Pibor County, to assist with the emergency response and help reunite children that had been separated from families.
An area in ruin
On landing in Pibor I saw that the food distribution point near the airstrip was flooded with people – children and women waiting in line for food under the hot sun, or pushing wheelbarrows with their food. Save the Children staff member Sulafa came to meet me – it was nice to see a familiar face.
The areas affected are Pibor town, Gumuruk and Likuangole, which was completely burnt down, with not even water pumps spared. People are reported to have fled to Fertait and Labrap.
Families ran in all directions. Some were killed, others abducted, and many separated.
Save the Children is mainly focusing on Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) of the many children who have been separated from their parents due to the conflict.
We have trained staff and volunteers in Pibor supporting the work of the Ministry, to register all missing, separated or unaccompanied children in order to reunify them with their caregivers.
This work requires patience and empathy to talk with the children during registration process. The children have been on the run and are now back in their villages, and cannot find their parents or relatives.
Reuniting families and children
Save the Children teams go out everyday, talking to families and registering cases, and hopefully some caregivers will be found soon.
We have put up messages to encourage parents to check with Save the Children staff or local authorities on cases of missing or separated children.
Communities are also encouraged to teach their children, especially young ones, the names of their parents and villages as one step towards preventing separation.
I remember going out with our staff and finding a child who had been separated. On enquiring how she was coping and with whom she was staying, the child began to cry. Obviously the memory of the attack, of missing her parents and still not knowing their whereabouts, is very fresh in her mind and will remain so for a long time.
Before I even arrived in Pibor, an unaccompanied child was found alone near the airstrip in Likuangole, after the first wave of violence, and was brought to the Save the Children office in Juba with the last group of evacuated UN staff.
The three-year-old boy had witnessed his father and grandparents die in the violence. Now, he is staying with a relative in Juba while our staff in Pibor try to locate his relatives. It’s heartbreaking hearing him ask for his mother, and I hope we can find her.
The biggest challenge in finding all the families for these missing children is mainly due to population movement.
Most of the people are still living in fear, and have not returned to their homes. Some are reported to be living in the bush, while others have gone to look for missing relatives.
In an area where phone communication and movement is difficult, and with populations scattered and in hiding, it is not easy to reunify children with their caregivers.
We wait and hope there will be peace.