Access to social services and job skills provide a fresh start

100 former child soldiers get vocational skills training at the care centre in Yambio

Lisa Lynn Hill
A young mother learns to sew
UNICEFSouthSudan/Hill
02 August 2021

Yambio, South Sudan – “I’m already thinking of clothing designs I can create on my own after I graduate. One month ago, I didn’t know anything about tailoring,” says Grace (name changed) as she holds her small baby, Innocent, while practicing with the sewing machine.

Grace was 16 when she was abducted by an armed group while walking home with her sister and two neighbouring children, after working all day tending to crops in the field. “The armed men would beat us when the food wasn’t prepared quickly enough,” says Grace, reflecting on harsh memories.

Thousands of children in South Sudan have been forced into armed forces and armed groups, and many remain enrolled. Grace was released after nine months in captivity and today she is attending the Tiindoka Care and Vocational Centre in Yambio, where children are getting access to a new way of life. UNICEF is working with the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (NDDRC) and partners to advocate for the release of children. The organization is one of the main providers of reintegration services for Children Associated with Armed forces and Armed Groups (CAAFAG).

"Bakumba" has been studying carpentry for a month now at the vocational school.
UNICEFSouthSudan/Hill
"Bakumba" has been studying carpentry for a month now at the vocational school.

Next to the building where Grace is learning to sew, Bakumba (name changed) is studying to be a carpenter. He wants to become the “best carpenter in town” so that he will be able to get plenty of work to make a living. “I have suffered a lot in the past. I want to begin a new life and to be able to take good care of myself,” he says.

Bakumba was only 14 years old when he was abducted from his home in the night while the family was sleeping. The elders tried to intervene, but the robbers took him and forced him into an armed group where he was held for two years. “I have left all those memories in the past,” he says. Bakumba is happy now, even though he lives on his own. He is not in touch with his family as they have perished in intercommunal violence or are in armed groups. He is doing odd jobs in the community to be able to survive. But he is building a brighter future for himself thanks to the carpentry course at the Vocational Centre.   

The priority for released children is reunification with their families or communities. The children receive three months' worth of food and necessities like clothing, blankets, cooking utensils, and sometimes fishing gear. The children also receive follow-up visits by case managers who facilitate their access to basic services, address any protection issues and provide counseling to help them transition back to their communities. This is an important step to prevent them from being re-recruited by armed groups.

Tiindoka care and vocational center in Yambio.
UNICEFSouthSudan/Hill
Tiindoka care and vocational center is a refuge for children in Yambio.

Support from a social worker has helped Grace plan goals for her and her baby’s future. “I will be able to complete my schooling with the money I make from sewing.” She holds up the paper to see if she has made straight lines with the sewing machine. “I can also make sure my baby gets a good education to have a bright future.” Working closely with partners, UNICEF’s vocational programme will allow 100 children to graduate in December; all of them equipped with in-demand skills, a vocational start-up kit, and a strong resolve for self-sufficiency.

Grace and Bakumba have enrolled in this vocational programme thanks to funding from partners such as the EU, ECHO, the Federal Republic of Germany through KfW Development Bank, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the United States Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan (USSESSD) and the Spanish National Committee for UNICEF.