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Refugee children in South Sudan campaign for awareness to protect fellow children from COVID-19

"We could not stop the conflict, that’s why we are here as refugees. But we can help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the camp,” shares Esther, 9.

Esther was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), though she cannot remember how old she was when they fled the country. “When the fight erupted, my mother told me many people left their homes, walked through the bush in the dark for days until they got to the border with South Sudan. We got registered and brought to the refugee camp, " she says.

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Esther shares the preventative measures with fellow children in Makpandu Refugee Camp.

 

Before the pandemic, children usually gathered together in the morning at the community centre, others in the evening after school, to play, learn from each other, and for psychosocial support services. “At the centre, we felt refreshed as we shared each other’s experiences coming from different countries and backgrounds. We also shared our dreams as children,” adds Esther.  

In March 2020, all the child-friendly spaces (CFS) were closed due to COVID-19 to avoid the spread of the virus. Esther recalled that they stayed home, but the World Vision team visited the children at home and trained them on COVID-19 safety measures. 

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Hellen was all smiles after playing and learning new lessons from her friends in the camp.

 

Justine Elia, World Vision’s UNHCR Project Manager shares, “The pandemic has affected our protection activities. Our team has increased challenges in safely reaching out to the refugees in the camp, which was quite organised before the pandemic happened.”

When the fight erupted, my mother told me many people left their homes, walked through the bush in the dark for days until they got to the border with South Sudan.

"After being trained, we started raising awareness about COVID-19 to our fellow children in the community so they observe safety even as they play," Esther explains.

Now in primary three, Esther dreams of becoming a teacher in the future. “I want to become a teacher and contribute to the future of children affected by conflict like me.” Elia said the centre is key in providing protection and psychosocial support to boost the children's resilience.

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Children led by Esther and Hellen find time to play and learn from each other, but now they are also aware how to protect themselves through proper hygiene and good health practices.

 

Esther further shared that she does not want to go back to Congo anymore and she has become more comfortable in the camp. She explains, “Though it is not home, my future is more secure here as education is free and the place is peaceful compared to where I came from.”

Hellen, 10, adds, “In the centre, we learn about the rights of children, living a healthy life is one of them. That is why we will do our best to help raise awareness and bring development to our nation instead of conflict.” Esther and Hellen are among the 398 children reached through the CFS. The project is supported by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Makpandu Refugee Camp located in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State.

World Vision works closely with the organised community protection structures in the campaign against gender-based violence, abuses, and other issues. The door-to-door initiative have reached an estimated 4,000 people.

Read related story: A Congolese refugee child dreams of sharing story to inspire others

Story and photos by Scovia Faida Charles Duku, Communications Coordinator