My best friend

South Sudanese refugee children find friendship and hope at a new school

Florine Bos
UNICEF/Florine Bos

05 January 2020

On a dusty piece of land on the outskirts of Khartoum, a group of South Sudanese refugees lives together in a settlement called Bentiu. The settlement - named after a city in South Sudan - hosts eight different groups. It’s not an easy place to live; there is limited availability of water and other social services and - despite community efforts for peaceful coexistence - intercommunal tension often flares up. Around 4,200 households struggle to survive. 

One year ago, only a quarter of school-age children (aged six to thirteen) went to school. For the other girls and boys, the distance to the nearby host community school, or the direct and indirect school costs, proved too much. 

In October 2018, UNICEF, with support from the United Kingdom Government/Department for International Development (DFID) and the Government of the United States of America/Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM), started supporting the community with access to education. Three (semi-permanent) schools were constructed, with toilets and water facilities. The schools were also reached with teaching and learning materials, like blackboards, school bags, notebooks, pens and school uniforms for the students. Teachers were trained, and enrollment campaigns conducted to make parents aware of the importance of education for their daughters and sons.

At the moment 1,589 children from Bentiu are learning in the three schools in Bentiu (and an additional 728 children are enrolled in two schools in nearby Nivasha settlement). They not only learn to read and write but also learn to live together, and to establish new friendships. In a community where coexistence doesn't always equate to peace, these children's friendships provide a source of hope for the future. 

UNICEF/Florine Bos
Tagi and Puchok (second grade) are friends because they share their breakfast (fatoor) every morning.
UNICEF/Florine Bos
Carla and Sara (second grade) are friends because they play together after school.
UNICEF/Florine Bos
UNICEF/Florine Bos
Bitu and Jasmin (second grade) are friends because they sit next to each other in class.
UNICEF/Florine Bos
Ittisam and Mai (third grade) are friends because they are neighbours.
UNICEF/Florine Bos
Jacqueline and Khalisa (third grade) are friends because they can talk about everything together.