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Goodwill Ambassador Johann Koss sees effects of war in Southern Sudan

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© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Furrer
UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador Johann Koss visits a UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centre for malnourished children during a visit to Southern Sudan.
By Rachel Beck

Southern Sudan, 5 May 2006 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Johann Koss has just completed a visit to Southern Sudan to highlight both the challenges and opportunities for children here after 21 years of war.

Earlier this week, the Olympic Gold Medal speed-skater from Norway witnessed firsthand the plight of abducted children forced to join armed forces. Mr. Koss met with Peter, 13, a former child soldier who was happy to share his story.

Recovering from trauma

Like many others in the region, Peter lost his childhood to war. Kidnapped at the age of 10 by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – a Ugandan militia whose ranks include numerous abducted children – Peter was forced to march from his native Uganda into Sudan, where the LRA is also active.

But a gunshot wound to the leg became a ticket to freedom for Peter, who had endured 40 months of forced servitude in the brutal militia, roaming between northern Uganda and Southern Sudan. After Peter suffered the serious injury and his unit began a retreat from hostile forces, his commander took the boy’s gun and abandoned him so he would not slow down the group.

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Furrer
Norwegian Olympic speed-skating champion Johann Koss talks to a 13-year-old boy recently rescued from the Lord’s Resistance Army and brought to a centre for former child soldiers in Southern Sudan.
The injury probably saved Peter’s life. Rescued by military officers on patrol nearby, he was taken for medical treatment and then to a UNICEF-supported safe house for psycho-social care.

“You can only guess what he feels,” said Mr. Koss after meeting Peter. “It is a horrendous trauma.”

Social indicators still lag

Peter’s experience is part of a larger pattern of instability throughout the region. A peace agreement, signed in January 2005, ended the civil war in Southern Sudan and opened up enormous potential for progress. Yet outbreaks of armed conflict involving secondary or foreign groups like the LRA continue to plague the area, making it difficult for children to return to school and regain a measure of normalcy.

Meanwhile, social indicators here remain among the lowest in the world. Only about one in five children is enrolled in primary school, while three-quarters of the estimated 9 million people in Southern Sudan cannot read or write. Safe drinking water is scarce and electricity is almost non-existent.

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Furrer
Johann Koss visits a children's play area in Southern Sudan established with support from his non-governmental organization, 'Right to Play', and UNICEF.
“It’s easy, now that the war is over, to forget Southern Sudan,” said Mr. Koss. “Yet as a Goodwill Ambassador, it is extremely important to advocate for the situation here.”

Hope for the future

During his stay in Southern Sudan, Mr. Koss visited clinics and schools, as well as nutrition, rehabilitation and sports programmes designed to help children cope with the aftermath of the conflict and reclaim their childhood.

Mr. Koss also spent time at several schools that have benefited from the ‘Go to School’ campaign, a major UNICEF-backed initiative that aims to double the number of children in classrooms by early 2007. Sending every child to school is “important for creating stability” and will “create hope for the future,” he said, stressing the vital role of education in rebuilding the nation.

Young Peter, who will soon be reunited with his family, could not agree more. UNICEF is assisting in tracing his family in Uganda and will arrange his safe transport home. As soon as his leg is healed, he plans to return to the school he left over three years ago – saved by a ‘lucky’ bullet.




2 May 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Johann Koss’ visit to camps for displaced families near Khartoum.

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