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Through a Child’s Eyes

Life is difficult for South Sudanese children staying in Uganda’s refugee camps

Story by Samaritan’s Purse July 18th, 2017

The eyes of the children tell the story. Haunted. Numb. Scared. Confused. Tired. Hungry. After days or weeks of travel, refugee children from South Sudan arrive exhausted at Imvepi Refugee Resettlement in Uganda. The civil war that has raged for almost four years has left their country in ruins. They fled hoping they'd finally find peace.


When children and their families arrive at the border between South Sudan and Uganda, they are bused to processing centers located within one of the many resettlement camps. It’s a ride that could take hours.

A mother and her child wait patiently in one of the processing areas for their name to be called.

Mothers cling to their children as they exit the bus and begin the long registration process. The first visit is always to the medical tent. Malnourished children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers are given yellow wrist bands to identify their status. The healthy receive a blue band.

White bands identify the children that have arrived without their parents or guardians.

The registration process can take days. That’s a long time for the hundreds of young children and families living temporarily in the processing center at any given time.

New refugees must first go through a medical evaluation so camp officials can identify any illness or malnutrition.

According to officials, nearly 60 percent of one million refugees who have arrived are children. That’s 600,000 young minds whose lives have been interrupted because of a war they don’t even understand.

The white band identifies this child as unaccompanied minor.

Perhaps most shockingly, many children arrive without a parent or guardian. These unaccompanied minors are identified with a white wrist band. Currently, about 100 children arrive without their parents or a relative every day.

This young man arrived at Imvepi alone and must navigate the complex registration process without the support of his parents.

Samaritan’s Purse is responding to the plight of these refugees—children and adults—by providing them with food, clean water and hygiene training, and agricultural supplies and training.

Water in all the refugee camps is a precious commodity.

A New Family

Currently, Samaritan’s Purse is demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by providing food to more than 107,000 refugees living in Imvepi. Neena Atai, her children, and some family members are among them. They decided to make the journey to Uganda earlier this year. Along the road, like many families, they came across separated and orphaned children.


For Neena, it wasn’t a difficult decision for the family to accept five orphans into their homes.

“I will take care of them,” Neena said. Though having extra mouths to feed is a daily challenge, there was no hesitation in her voice. These children were now hers, and she will take care of them until they can take care of themselves.

Families often make cornmeal biscuits and sell them at the market in order to make extra money.
Neena with her children and the orphaned children she has adopted.

Two sisters in her charge are Joy Keji and Saron Monday. Their father was killed by rebels on the way to Uganda. Their father lived near Neena’s village so she decided to take them in.


To help generate additional income, the family prepares a cornmeal bread biscuit with ingredients provided by Samaritan’s Purse. They then will sell them in the local market, enabling them to eke out a living.


A First-Time Father

John Ayume, 21, arrived with his mother Ella at Bidibidi Refugee Resettlement in November 2016. In addition to the meager items they possessed, the family also arrive in Uganda with five orphaned children they met on the road.

“There are a lot of separated children,” John said.

John and the children he is helping support. All have lost or been separated from their parents. Their ages range from 3 to 10.

Despite the challenges, John and his mother are caring for the young children as if they were their own.

“It has been difficult,” he said. “The children do not have clothing. There is no money to buy medicine when they are sick.”

Refugee boys are engulfed in a homemade game.
“It has been difficult,” he said. “The children do not have clothing. There is no money to buy medicine when they are sick.”

John didn’t anticipate becoming a father figure to five children, but he has taken on the role as provider and is working with Samaritan’s Purse as a hygiene promoter.


“I’m enjoying it,” John said. “You get to be on a team and promote health within the community.” Since John and others have received the training, illnesses related to unclean water have decreased and many families have been able to build latrines.


A Close Bond

In July 2016, the fighting in South Sudan became particularly intense.

“Many innocent people have been killed,” Victor Alhaz said. It was after that July outbreak, that Victor and his family made the decision to leave South Sudan.

Viola and her sister Noela were separated from their parents, but feel at home with Victor, Rose, and their children.
“When the fighting erupted, my parents ran and so did we,” Viola said. “We don’t know where they are.”

On the road, Victor, his wife Rose, and their children met sisters Viola and Noela. The sisters were separated from their parents in South Sudan after fighting broke out in their community. At 18, Viola found herself taking care of her 12-year-old sister.

“When the fighting erupted, my parents ran and so did we,” Viola said. “We don’t know where they are.”


Alone and unsure of what to do, they decided to travel Bidibidi Refugee Resettlement with Victor and his family. As a result, there is now a strong bond between Rose and the girls.


Recently, Victor received agriculture supplies and training from Samaritan’s Purse, which will help him provide for his family and its newest additions.

Victor and his extended family. His wife Rose is in the neon green t-shirt in the back row.

“I’m excited because I was chosen by Samaritan’s Purse,” Victor said. “I call myself lucky because I know that many people wanted the seeds in the neighborhood.”

The refugees have hope that peace will one day return to South Sudan. When that day comes, there will be many celebrations as families are reunited.

A Samaritan's Purse hygiene promoter shares with a mother about ways she can help keep her children healthy.

In the meantime, those caring for unaccompanied minors and orphaned children are doing the best that they can. There are those working to try and bring families back together, but with over a million refugees it remains difficult.

Earlier this year, Samaritan's Purse distributed seeds and agricultural supplies to refugee families in Bidibidi.

But the children don’t really have to worry. The bonds between lost children and their adopted families is strong. For many of these South Sudanese refugees, it isn’t just the family you have it is the family you make.

“But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief, to repay it by Your hand. The helpless commits himself toYou; You are the helper of the fatherless.” —Psalm 10:14
Northern Region, Uganda
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