“The violence in South Sudan has left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced and homeless.
Many of them are children, forced to flee their country to seek relative refuge in neighbouring countries. Last month I visited Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp with World Vision and saw first hand the emotional trauma still haunting many.
Three teenagers I met at that camp still stick out in my mind. In the sprawling settlement they shared a tent, they also shared a loss, all had been separated from family members whilst fleeing the violence.
Sixteen year old Pal was separated from his mother when violence broke out, he remains optimistic, but he hasn’t seen his mum since mid-December, eyes glazed over, he tells me “one day I will see her again,”
Chuol’s story is distressingly similar. He fled Malakal, in the Upper Nile state, it’s been one of the areas worst affected by recent violence. Chuol describes how his mother was shot right in front of him as he ran for his life; “I later wept for her, I miss her, I have no relative here at the camp,”
Douth is also desperately searching for his family members, but as I meet him, his mind is focused on the pressing concern of living conditions; “The water is in short supply, we do not have a change of clothes, we are not attending school, we also have to get used to sharing facilities such as latrines and bathroom with many people. I am not used to that,”
The plight of these three children is by no means unique here. An assessment carried out by aid agencies in Kakuma found out that an estimated 1,133 children have been separated from their parents of which an estimated 149 were unaccompanied minors.
But even for those with family members, the situation offers little relief. Over 145,000 people have fled South Sudan looking for safety and shelter, many who arrive at this camp do so with very little. As violence once again threatens to erupt in South Sudan, the refugee influx stretches limited access to water, food and clean sanitation.
Those such as Pal, are among thousands of refugees hoping that one day, they will be reunited with their family. Every evening as the UN buses bring another batch of new arrivals to the reception centre, Pal is among those watching expectantly, hoping that his mother is among them.
“Since I arrived here in January 12th I have been hoping to see her get-off from one of the buses, but that has not happened.”
These are thoughts that appear to linger on many children’s faces as you wander around the camp.
With or without their families, many have endured unimaginable hardships to escape South Sudan’s violence. Now though they must try and resume some form of normality.
Aside from food and shelter, these children immediately need psychological support and counselling to help them deal with their experiences. If nothing is done, their suffering may far outlive this conflict.
Lucy Murunga is a World Vision aid worker based in Nairobi, Kenya.