Hope for South Sudan’s younger generation
Liatile Putsoa, from Lesotho recently joined UNMISS as a UN Volunteer. In this piece, she shares her personal impressions about her first visit to the Protection of Civilian (PoC) site in Juba.
What was most striking when I entered the Protection of Civilian (PoC) site in Juba was the number of children I saw. This was my first visit to a PoC site and as we drove down the red dusty road, I watched as two boys pushed an old bicycle rim with a stick playing and laughing. Not far from them, more children were splashing about in a pond which I guessed was their makeshift swimming pool to cool off from the scorching heat.
Tucked away amid the thousands of tents and other makeshift shelters was Hope Primary School. The school, run by an international NGO, is built using bamboo and a corrugated iron roof and has over 3,000 learners between grades 1 to 8. This is where we met Santino Chab Nor Gatwech, 16, and Mary Nyaweitea Bol, 15, both students at the school.
Proudly wearing a sash written Head Boy in big bold letters, Santino, a Grade 7 pupil, met us at the school grounds. As I sat down to talk to him, I got the sense of a young boy who has seen terrible things in his short life brought about by the on-going conflict in South Sudan, the youngest country in the world, but when he spoke, you could hear a young man who has not given up hope, who longs to make something of his life.
“I want to be an Engineer when I grow up,” said Santino, “so that my country can develop and everything will be okay.”
“I hope for peace in South Sudan so that we can live in harmony without fighting, and live comfortably like other countries.”
The conflict erupted two years after South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 following a split between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar. Despite a peace agreement signed in August 2015, fighting continues which has forced more than two million children to flee their homes.
Describing his life before he came to the camp, Santino said that he had a comfortable life because he used to be free to go anywhere with his friends. He said his parents used to buy him clothes and that there was food to eat.
‘Santino’s House. All are welcome’ – these are the words that greet you as you enter Santino’s house. Although he came to the PoC site with his mother and nine siblings, Santino has his own house. It is small but spotless, with a desk where he does his homework. You can’t go without noticing the well preserved poster of Chelsea F.C., Santino’s favourite team, which hangs on his wall.
Santino, who has served as an altar boy in the church since he got to the camp in February 2014, said that he clearly remembers events of the crisis which broke out last July. He said that he was grateful to UN peacekeepers who risked their lives to protect the camp.
“I see them [the UN Peacekeepers], they are protecting us well.”
Mary, a Grade 6 pupil, also arrived at the camp three years ago with her parents and seven siblings. The youngest in her family, Mary is the top student in her class and a member of the debate club.
“Even though I am no longer living in my house outside, I am happy that I can still go to school. My favourite subjects are math and science; and when I grow up I want to be a doctor so that I can help people in my country,” said Mary.
“I clean the house every day. I wash my clothes and iron my school uniform,” said Mary. “I can do my homework in the evening because we have solar lights in our homes.”
As we drove out of the PoC site, Aja, a UN Police from the UNMISS Gender, Children Vulnerable Persons Protection (GCVPP) unit who was with us, said that a few weeks earlier, her unit had a career guidance day for students at Hope Primary School, and that Mary had shared with the same enthusiasm as she did just then, her dream of becoming a doctor.
June 16, every year, is observed as the Day of the African Child. This year’s theme, Accelerating, Protection, Empowerment and Equal Opportunity for Children in Africa by 2030, highlights the need for increased efforts to guarantee the protection, preservation of life and well-bring of children, particularly in conflict situations.
With over seventy thousand children living on UN PoC sites across South Sudan, core to the mandate of UNMISS is the protection of children. The Child Protection Unit monitors and reports on grave violations perpetrated against children including recruiting and using children in the armed conflict, sexual violence against children, killing and maiming children, abducting children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denying humanitarian access to children.
Together with partners, the Child Protection unit has supported the release of more than 400 children associated with armed forces and reintegrated them with their families.