By Bismarck Swangin
PIBOR, South Sudan, 1 March 2012 – It was an ecstatic scene as Nora Wacha, a 20-year-old woman who had been abducted during the recent fighting between the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, was reunited with her family in Pibor.
|VIDEO: UNICEF reports on efforts to support victims of inter-communal conflict in Jonglei, South Sudan. Watch in RealPlayer|
“I am happy to return home and be with my people again,” Wacha said.
Ms. Wacha, who is seven months pregnant, and her 2-year-old son were abducted in January. She said she saw her son a few times, but he was held separately and remains in captivity.
“I don’t know if I will get him back, but I am still optimistic,” she said.
Bearing the brunt of conflict
When Ms. Wacha, a member of the Murle community, was abducted by a group belonging to the Lou Nuer community, she endured a difficult journey through a vast territory to Wuror County, far away from her home land.
More than a month later, Ms. Wacha managed to escape, after getting to know the area and learning where to find safety and help.
|© UNICEF video|
|Nora Wacha embraces a relative after being returned to Pibor, South Sudan. Ms. Wacha and her 2-year-old son were abducted in January. Her son remains in captivity.|
She fled and reported herself to the County Commissioner of Wuror, who then contacted UNICEF and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to facilitate the process of family tracing and reunion.
After spending a week at an Interim Care Centre, run by the Jonglei State Ministry of Social Development with support from UNICEF, Ms. Wacha was flown on an UNMISS helicopter to Pibor. She was received by state social workers and UNICEF staff who reunited her with her family.
Her story is like that of hundreds of others in a region where inter-communal clashes are all too common. Ms. Wacha was abducted in the latest of a series of clashes between the groups; the conflict has seen many killed and displaced on both sides. Children and women often bear the brunt of such attacks.
“In this conflict, as the men fled, the women and children are often left to fend for themselves, which increases their vulnerability,” said Dr. Yasmin Haque, Representative for UNICEF South Sudan.
UNICEF, working with its partners, has registered some 100 unaccompanied children and is supporting efforts to find their families. But many children are still missing, and it is presumed they have been abducted.
“These children won’t just forget their families and communities. They need to be returned,” Dr. Haque said.
|© UNICEF video|
|A member of the Murle community, South Sudan.|
With education, hope returns
In Pibor, UNICEF has set up a child-friendly space, a safe place where the children can play and participate in learning activities.
John Khamis, 12, was displaced from Lokuongole Village during an attack. His school was burned down.
“I am happy to come here to learn,” he said, pointing to the tent that now serves as his classroom. “I want to gain more knowledge and become a doctor.”
Chacha Mathi, a girl in her early teens, says she comes to the centre even when her family doesn’t allow her. She knows education will lead her to a better life.
UNICEF is setting up tents to serve as additional classrooms so that the schools in Pibor town, where some of the displaced population has settled, can absorb the additional number of children.
“A bright future is only possible with education,” said Joshua Konyi, the Commissioner of Pibor. “All these conflicts that are going on are because of ignorance.”
Solution lies with communities
The government is planning to begin a voluntary disarmament campaign in Jonglei State in March, with UNMISS monitoring for human rights violations.
In the meantime, tensions remain high. An estimated 140,000 people have been affected by the violence, and a majority of displaced people have settled around Pibor town, leading to a deterioration in the town’s hygiene and sanitation situation.
UNICEF has repaired several water pumps and set up temporary pit latrines to prevent the outbreak of diseases. Soap and buckets have also be been distributed.
At Pibor Health Centre, UNICEF is providing medical supplies to manage common deadly childhood illnesses such as malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections.
Children at the centre are also being screened for malnutrition, and those found to be malnourished receive therapeutic foods.
The conflict in Jonglei remains one of the most complex challenges for the safety and development of children and women in South Sudan. The only viable path for improved quality of life, growth and development for children is a sustainable peace – one in line with the aspirations of community members.
“We are keen to ensure that the communities are part of the solution, and only by doing so will there be a lasting solution to the problem,” said Dr. Haque.