“I am old and I have lived, but look at all the children here,” says Gideon, an elderly man I met at a shelter for displaced people in South Sudan, as he gestured at the vastness of the camp beyond the tent in which we sit.
“They are young with a full life to live, but there is nothing for them here . . . and none of us can tell them when it will get better or when they can go home.”
One in every 10 people in South Sudan have been forced from their homes. A staggering number – and one that is rising every day. These are just some of their stories:
Susanna is living with her six children at the Mahad IDP site in Juba. The conditions here are abysmal with trash strewn across the ground, inadequate water supply and sanitation, and not enough tents to accommodate all the people.
“Before the crisis, we lived in Pibor. After 15 December, Nuer and Dinka people in our town began fighting each other. My husband was killed and some of the fighters were looting homes. We had no choice but to run to the bush and hide.
My children are lucky to eat one meal a day.
“I knew it wouldn’t be safe for us to return home, so I walked with my children to Juba (approximately 200 miles). It took us nearly a month to get here.
“Here at the camp, there is very little food and safe drinking water to go around. My children are lucky to eat one meal a day. There are not enough tents, so we must sleep in the open under the stars.
“I don’t know what I will do now that my husband is gone. I have to depend on my eldest son (15) to help me take care of the family. But I know he should be in school instead.”
Yuot is five-years-old, the second youngest of five children. His 26-year-old mother is now a single parent following the death of her husband, Yuot’s father, who was killed during fighting in Bor – a town north of Juba. The family now lives in an IDP camp along the banks of the Nile River.
“It was very late at night and I was sleeping. The guns and shouting woke me up.
“My mother made us run towards the river, but I slipped and fell because I was going too fast. I fell on my arm and it broke.
“I like the (cast) that I get to wear for my arm.”
Sanday is 16-years-old and also from Bor. She was separated from her family during recent fighting and has not seen her mother since. She fled Bor with her younger sister for the safety of the IDP site in Minkaman.
We’re alone now and I pray to God that my mother is alive.
“I landed here this morning on a boat from Bor. The journey took hours and we did not have water.
“Many people were killed in Bor, my home, and we had to leave. I saw dead bodies in the road. We hid for days in the bush until the situation calmed down. Then my mother put my sister and me on the boat to come to this place where she thought we’d be safe.
“We have an uncle here, but I don’t know where he is. We’re alone now and I pray to God that my mother is alive.”
* Name changed to protect her identity
Christopher Tidey is an Emergency Specialist with UNICEF