All I want is peace

Boys queue to register at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in a settlement for displaced people in the town of Mingkaman. They have only just arrived after fleeing their homes in Bor last December because of ongoing violence. Photo: UNICEF, 2014, Holt
Boys queue to register at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in a site for internally displaced people in South Sudan. Like Garang, they fled their homes in Bor last December because of violence. Photo: UNICEF, 2014, Holt

Garang, 12, is one of the estimated half a million children in South Sudan who have been displaced by violence. Here is his story in his own words.

Every time I close my eyes, I can still see images of the gunmen shooting and killing people. It feels like it happened yesterday. I fear closing my eyes or even sleeping because I get to relive the bad days. I usually get nightmares because of what I saw and this makes me scream at night. I thought I was the only one going through this but sometimes, I hear my brothers and sisters screaming too. The funny thing about these nightmares is that nobody wants to talk about them, probably because no one wants to remember those dreadful days and nights.

Before escaping from Bor, I saw many people being killed, including my relatives, and many houses were torched down. There were dead bodies of men, women and children everywhere.

My family escaped to the forest where we stayed for seven days, walking along the river in search of a safe haven. The seven-day walk was the worst time of my life. In the forest, there was no clean water and the grass was so long and sharp it was cutting our feet. I still have marks. We were always afraid of being attacked by snakes while walking in the swampy areas. Food was a luxury that no one ever dared to talk about. We fed on wild fruits and sometimes would go without food for days.

My family was lucky enough to get a boat ride from Bor to Mingkaman. We did not know what to expect ahead of us but all we needed was to get away. The gloom and sadness was evident on everyone’s face as we left our home but no one dared to say anything.

It has been two months since my family moved here. Although staying in Mingkaman is not comfortable, because we live in a temporary shelter, I like it because I feel safe. I really miss my home, friends and family whom we left in Bor. I am not sure if they are still there or if they are alive.

Despite being safe here, life is very difficult. There are no schools, no proper health care centres and most of the times we don’t eat. Our parents have no jobs. I always wish I had carried some sorghum from our granary back home. When it rains, life becomes unbearable because the whole place floods.

There are nights when I hear my mother weeping but I do not know how to console her. I just wish I could wipe her tears, hug her and tell her that everything will be okay. But I know things are not okay and I am not sure when life will go back to normal. It hurts me to hear her cry and see my father lost in his thoughts. I miss the happiness and the laughter that we all used to share. When I look into my siblings eyes, all I see is unspoken fear.

Even though we lost too many relatives and friends, I am glad that my brothers, sisters, mom and dad are all in the same place. I meet children here who have no one to take care of them because all their relatives were killed or were separated from them.

I am only twelve, there is nothing much I can do to change my situation but our leaders can do something. They can decide on whether to destroy our future or build it by investing in South Sudan’s children through education, health care, but above all peace. I want to live a normal life again. I don’t want to spend sleepless nights worrying about gunshots or missing school. I want a good future for myself, my family and my country.

All I want is peace!

Garang, 12 years old, was displaced from his home in Bor, South Sudan, by the ongoing violence. Photo: UNICEF, 2014, Kolok
Garang, 12 years old. Photo: UNICEF, South Sudan, 2014, Kolok