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South Sudan, 6 July 2015: Running for their lives

© UNICEF/South Sudan/2015/Hamer

By Ashley Hamer

6 July 2015, JUAIBOR, South Sudan – Nyangor Kuil Giel is a mother to two sets of twins. The youngest are just six months old. Four tiny hands grapple at her breast as she cradles both babies in long, slender arms.

When she heard the sound of helicopters approaching, she bundled the youngest twins in a basket and walked for an hour, crossing a swamp with the babies on her head in the hope of receiving assistance.

Nyangor isn’t sure of her own age but she has borne six children in total.

Around five weeks ago, she says, armed men attacked her village of Guit in South Sudan’s conflict-ravaged Unity State.

“We ran away because of they were killing people and burning our homes,” she said.

“Men with guns attacked. I ran to the river with many others and went in. Other people were hiding with me.”

Nyangor hid on an island in the swamp for three days until her husband found her and brought their six children to her. He told her to get out of Unity and escape to neighboring Jonglei State.

“My husband did not come with me, I have not seen him since.”

For more than one week, the family waded through dense wetland, surviving on grass and waterlily roots. They drank river water.

During the journey Nyangor took charge of two unaccompanied children whose parents were missing and together the mother and eight children canoed their way out of Unity and into Jonglei.

They came to rest upon reaching Juaibor; a small, isolated settlement surrounded by waterways in Jonglei State.

It is believed that as many as 54,000 people may be sheltering in this part of Jonglei, the majority of whom fled here since fighting intensified across South Sudan’s oil-rich conflict states in April.

The influx into Juaibor has put great pressure on the host community, its almost non- existent health care system, restricted clean water and scant food resources. Humanitarian assistance hasn’t reached this area for more than a decade.

To address the sudden, acute needs of this huge population a team of emergency specialists from UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) was deployed for a Rapid Response Mission (RRM).

The team was tasked with registering and feeding the entire population and conducting polio and measles vaccination for more than 9,000 children.

Community volunteers were trained and led by UNICEF Nutrition Specialists as they screened infants and pregnant women for malnutrition. Nyangors’ youngest twins were diagnosed with moderate acute malnutrition and she was referred to a local health unit to receive therapeutic food supplements. She was breastfeeding her sons for the last six months but has less and less milk as she doesn’t have enough food for herself and eight children.

The team and volunteers fixed the only clean water hand-pump in the village and in an hour there were dozens of children and women fetching water, singing and playing around the water pump. A child friendly space was set up and very soon the boys were playing a game of football place while the girls were being introduced to volleyball for the first time in their lives. Nearly 1,500 children were registered, most of whom had either never been to school or had their education disrupted by fighting.

During RRM missions UNICEF identifies children who are unaccompanied or have become separated from their families in the chaos of their escape. “I took these two children with my own because their parents are gone. We do not know where they are or even if they are alive,” said Nyangor of the two separated youngsters she has taken in.

Now that they are registered in a national data base they will be given psychosocial help and, following family tracing procedures, will hopefully soon be reunified with their parents or close relatives where they can continue to live and grow in a family environment.

 

 
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