South Sudan: “I feel like I have come to life here”
“There were dead people everywhere and their houses were burnt. Everything in our house was broken and looted.
“We left with nothing. Then later, we heard our house had been burnt to the ground.”
A three-day flight
“I tried really hard to walk all the way but I couldn’t. I was beaten,” says seven-year old Nyawal* of her arduous, three-day flight through the bush. She and her mother were eventually picked up by a passing car.
Nyawal’s 13-year-old brother Simon* didn’t have that luxury. “I felt so much fear. We walked for seven days.
“I was very hungry and thirsty. We drank dirty water from small pools at the side of the road. I was afraid for my life at the start. I had no happiness and no hope of reaching a safe place.
“When I arrived here I just slept and slept. I was so tired and sick. I couldn’t move.”
A safer place
This part of Jonglei remained relatively free of fighting. As a result, tens of thousands of frightened people have fled this way for safety.
“When we got here, Save the Children gave us plastic sheeting, which meant I could build us a waterproof house,” says Tayar. “It keeps all the rain out.”
He calls the small rectangular ‘took-al’ he has built from wood, grass and plastic sheeting a work in progress. But anything that keeps out South Sudan’s torrential downpours is already an impressive feat of home-building.
“The blankets, cooking equipment and water containers also made the situation much better for us. We use them every day.”
A Child Friendly Space
But what all three are most keen to talk about is the Child Friendly Space. Their house is right on the edge of the ad hoc football pitch, where teams in coloured bibs dash around frantically.
On the other side of the pitch, a school building hosts a calmer – but only slightly calmer – session of board games and puzzles. Save the Children facilitators watch over the children, talk to them in the shade of trees, or join in the games.
“All the bad things melt away”
“What they are thinking of – all the bad things they saw before the came here – melt away when they play with the other children,” says Tayar with a smile.
“Those thoughts are gone, and they are happy and comfortable.
Without this place, children here would be street children with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
“They would get in trouble. Some would become thieves.”
“My favourite thing is to play football with my friends,” says Simon. “I feel like I have come to life here.”
*Names changed to protect identities.