'We ran in different directions and we became separated'

Friday 14 February 2014

Since the outbreak of conflict in South Sudan in December 2013 more than 800,000 people have been forced from their homes, including around 480,000 children. Some have sought refuge in UN bases, while other are living in the bush or with local communities. All are in desperate need of shelter, food, healthcare, and clean water.

Akuol and her siblings in Awerial. Photo Mackenzie Knowles-Courson/Save the Children

In the chaos of the conflict, many children became separated from their parents. Some are living with members of their community, others are fending for themselves. Save the Children is supporting these highly vulnerable children by ensuring they have access to basic services as well as working to reunite them with their parents.

We are already assisting more than 1,000 children in this way including 12-year-old Akuol. When fighting broke out in Bor in December 2013, Akuol and her brothers and sisters fled their home but in the process became separated from their mother. The children are now among 84,000 people who have take shelter in Awerial, with man people living under the trees with no shelter and limited clean water, food and healthcare.

As she ran from her home, Akuol was carrying her 18-month-old sister, Adhal. Without her mother she did not know where she was going but kept following other people from her village through the bush and the swamp until she reached the edge of the river Nile. Here she came across a neighbour, Jakob and his family, she knew from home.

Akuol said, “When the attack happened I was with my mother but then we ran in different directions and we became separated.

“The fighting started at night so I didn’t bring anything with me and the only clothes I have are these ones that I am wearing. I didn’t know where I was going but was following the other people who were also running. We stopped when we got to the river and we met with this man, who was our neighbour back at home, and he told us we should move with him and his family.”

Jakob and his wife Abuk kept Akuol and her five siblings safe, as well as looking after their own two children and four other children from their village who had also lost their parents. He managed to scrape together enough money to bring everyone across the river by boat and his family as well as the ten separated children are now living under a tree in Awerial.

“Now I am staying under this tree and it is very hot but at night we have nothing to cover us and it is very cold. We also feel very hungry; my brothers and sisters have nothing to eat and they are hungry. Sometimes if our neighbour gets grain from someone else we eat that but if he gets nothing then we also have nothing to eat.

“My youngest sister has been sick since we came here and now seems very weak. She has diarrhoea. This is because we are not eating good food and we are drinking water that is dirty.”

Akuol last heard that her mother was in Juba and was trying to come to Awerial to be with her children. But she has not had contact for many days, and does not know if and when she will arrive. In the meantime Save the Children is working to ensure Akuol and her siblings have access to appropriate support, as well as working to reunite them with their mother.

Akuol said, “I am responsible for these younger children because I am the oldest. There is no grown up person here from my family so I have put myself in the position to care for these children.”