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Kenya, 11 April 2016: Four boys rebuilding lives against all odds

From conflict in South Sudan to rebuilding lives in Kenya

By Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop

© UNICEF/ESARO2015/Willmott-Harrop
Jime, front, hanging out with Gatluck, Peter, Marco. All were friends and neighbours in Bentiu before fleeing the conflict in South Sudan without their parents and other family members.

KAKUMA, Kenya, 11 April 2016 – Jime, 17, and his three friends are on a journey from war to peace. From South Sudan to Kenya. From childhood to adulthood.

Over the past two years, 1.7 million people have become internally-displaced within South Sudan as a result of civil conflict. Almost 800,000 South Sudanese, half of them children, have sought international protection as refugees in neighbouring countries. Jime and his friends fled to Kakuma refugee camp in North East Kenya in early 2014, leaving their families and parents behind in Bentiu.

However, the boys’ journey will not end until they are happily resettled. Jime comments, “We came here to save our lives, we got lifts from drivers from different places and finally met each other at the reception centre of the refugee camp. There is no peace at home, so we are open to being resettled in other countries. But we do not want to go back to South Sudan.”

Jime, his uncle Gatluck, 16, and friends Peter and Marco, 15 and 17 respectively, have joined 186,000 other refugees and asylum seekers in Kakuma. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), half of those living in the camp have fled the conflict in South Sudan, with over 12,000 girls and boys having arrived as unaccompanied and separated children. This has resulted in one of the largest caseloads in the region.

Wilson Mein Kisiero, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF says that as soon as unaccompanied children arrive, their details are captured and a best interest assessment undertaken to determine what protection services they need.

“We are digitizing the case management system and rolling out a new version of the Inter-Agency Child Protection Information Management System, CPIMS – plus, leading to the establishment of the Protection Related Information Management for Emergency Response Operations (PRIMERO), so that we can improve the sharing of data with relevant countries in the region. This will greatly assist with family tracing and reunification.”

Family tracing and reunification are key in minimising the time children spend in a refugee camp. Kakuma camp will be 25 years old next year. The camp was established in 1992 to accommodate 16,000 children and youth fleeing violent conflict in Sudan, with a maximum stay initially set at six years. However, many families and individuals have spent the majority of their lives there with cases of some having lived there for10, 15, and even 20 years.

© UNICEF/ESARO2015/Willmott-Harrop
Angelina and nine of the 18 children she cooks and cares for, including the four boys in front of her home.

As the boys await news of their families, they are slowly settling into camp life and getting used to their new home, a simple mud building with space for four mattresses on the floor. UNICEF has provided the children with dignity kits containing items such as toiletries and clothing while helping to keep children safe in the camp.

Recreation is an important part of the boys’ lives, especially when it comes to playing football.

“We play football and have many friends,” says Marco. “We are all from the Nuer tribe and rely on ourselves. In the school lunch break we have no time to cook, but we know a woman, Angelina, who we can talk to if we are troubled and who cooks for us when we give her our food rations. So it seems like we are alone, but we are not alone.”

Angelina, 33, also from Bentiu, South Sudan, lives at Kakuma a few streets away from the boys. Angelina is due to be assisted by a foster parent scheme run by UNICEF and its partner organisation, Lutheran World Federation (LWF), where families take care of unaccompanied children from their own countries and ethnic groups. Family reunification, foster care and resettlement are part of the strategies used in the foster scheme in finding durable solutions for unaccompanied and separated children.

Even before knowing about the foster parent scheme, Angelina had already extended her huge heart and hospitality to the four boys after meeting them at the reception centre when they arrived at the camp. She had also just fled her home country.

“War broke out and I had to get to a safe place. Neighbours sent their children with me when I fled South Sudan with my own children,” says Angelina. “I have four children of my own, another 10 who came with me from South Sudan, plus the four boys who I cook for. So there are 19 of us, altogether in this big family!”

“If the children lack clothes or sandals I forage for wood to sell for extra money. My wish for the future is to manage the children and care for them and they will help me in future. It is all about family,” insists Angelina.

Years of conflict in Sudan, then South Sudan as it became in 2011, means that Angelina and the boys have rarely known peace in their lifetimes. Even in instances when peace prevailed, development indicators in the young nation were still among the lowest in the world, with children having little access to health care, education and adequate nutrition. They also face multiple protection risks including abduction and child labour.

While at the camp the boys have been able to attend school. Jime says this means a lot to them. “The school is better at the camp than at home. The text books are better and we are learning many skills. The teachers here are qualified, not like in South Sudan. With schooling in Kenya, we have a future. We are safe and get an education,” a hopeful Jime adds.

After completing his education, Gatluck still has hopes of returning home to South Sudan.

“All of us want to be doctors. At the moment peace is a problem, but I want to go back to South Sudan one day, as a doctor, to help my people.”

 

 
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