Urgent support for South Sudanese refugee children in Uganda

Safety, food, healthcare and education – refugee children who have fled turmoil in South Sudan urgently need all of these things. Thanks to a €320,000 grant from the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children will provide them for thousands of vulnerable children.

Fighting and a lack of basic services in South Sudan have forced hundreds of thousands of families to make the heartbreaking decision to leave their homes in search of safety. Since July, over 330,000 people have sought that safety in neighbouring Uganda, but the sudden arrival of so many people is straining services there and putting children’s futures at risk.

Tommy*, a child refugee from South Sudan, looks out at the outside world from behind the fence of Nyumanzi refugee reception/transit centre in Uganda. The yellow plastic tag on his left wrist indicates that he is a newly arrived refugee, who has been registered and is now recognised by the Government of Uganda. Tommy* had visited Save the Children’s child-friendly space (CFS). Alma Rose Temaiya, a Child Protection officer with Save the Children, had brought him in and handed him to one of the minders in the small tent full of chattering children and colourful toys. Tommy* did not say a single word for the one hour he spent in the CFS. The children’s minder made several attempts to get him to talk but, with a sullen look on his face, he only did what she told him without a single sound. “Tommy’s mother died as they fled their home in South Sudan. He saw her dying, and that could explain his sadness,” Child protection officer Alma Rose Temaiya explains. Tommy* is one of the 1,426 separated and unaccompanied children from South Sudan that were registered in July in Adjumani, the district receiving the largest number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. Of these, 533 are unaccompanied, meaning they arrived in Uganda on their own, without a guardian, while 893 arrived in the care of adults other than their parents/guardians, having separated from them during flight. Having lost his mother, Tommy arrived at the Uganda border with an aunt and his two siblings. In all the reception and resettlement camps hosting South Sudanese refugees, Save the Children runs child-friendly spaces, where children are offered psychosocial support, and engaged in recreation and play activities to address psychological distress and to reintroduce routine as well as a return to normalcy of life, in the long run. One of the psychosocial support approaches used is HEART – Healing and Education through Art. HEART makes use of artistic expression – drawing, painting, music, dance and drama – to give children the creative means for telling their personal, often painful, stories, so that they are ready to learn. “War affects children’s emotional stability,” says Save the Children Child Protection Specialist Margaret Atimango. “A child who is traumatised may not be able to talk or relate with other children. Through HEART, we encourage the child to draw, paint, mould or sing and dance, in order to help them express themselves.” Atimango adds that the sessions are guided by facilitators who are able to monitor the children’s progress and take the necessary action. If a child does not make the necessary progress, they may be referred to another service provider for further management. “Signs of progress include uttering the first word, crying or starting to relate with other children. A child who was earlier on fearful relating with adults may slowly start to do so,” she explains. Temaiya is hopeful that with the necessary support, Tommy will be able to put the past behind him. “It’s only a matter of time,” she says.

Save the Children has grown particularly concerned about the health and well being of children in Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee settlement, which the United Nations Refugee Agency has declared one of the largest refugee-hosting areas in the world. Women and children make up 85 per cent of new arrivals at Bidibidi, and more settlements are opening as refugees continue to arrive.

Thanks to the IKEA Foundation’s grant, Save the Children and its partners will work in Bidibidi, and possibly other settlements, to

  • create child-friendly spaces where children can find safety, learn about their rights and continue their educations
  • establish mother-and-baby areas where staff can ensure infants and young children get the nutritious breastmilk or food they need
  • give children psychosocial support so they can learn to cope with the traumas they have experienced
  • reunite children with their families if they have become separated in the chaos, or place children with responsible caregivers if their families can’t be found.
Khamis Emmanuel Napoleon is a child protection volunteer working with Save the Children’s emergency response in Adjumani, Uganda. He is a refugee from Southern Sudan.

Shambhavi Sharma, Programme Manager at the IKEA Foundation, said: “So many children from South Sudan have lost everything near and dear to them—their homes, their sense of safety and, in some cases, their families. We are happy to support Save the Children’s work to give these children the care and support they need most at a time of such turmoil and uncertainty.”

“Save the Children is deeply concerned about the rapidly changing situation in South Sudan. Uganda is already a generous host of refugees from the region, and with our established presence in Bidibidi, we are grateful for the IKEA Foundation’s confidence in our plans to reach as many children as possible with urgent care and quality education. No child should miss out on their education because they have been forced to flee their homes,” said Daniele Timarco, Global Humanitarian Director, Save the Children.


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