Ten-year-old Nyagonar’s voice trembles as she tells us her story:
“The fighting started in the middle of the night and we woke up scared and ran out to find a place to hide. When I got outside with my mother, we saw my father dead on the ground. My mother kept screaming, pulling me to run and hide.”
After hiding in the bush for four days, Nyagonar’s mother decided it was time for them to go back to the village, since the gun shots had apparently ceased. The false sense of security, however, lasted for only a few hours.
“My mother came again when I was sleeping saying we needed to run to the camp where they would protect us. Outside everybody was running and screaming and many were being killed. I wasn’t looking back. When I reached the place and tried to find my mother, she had disappeared. I never saw her again.”
Completely alone and frightened, the brave girl continued to look for her mother inside the UN base in Malakal. Weeks went by and she started to lose hope, still incapable of sleeping at night fearful that violence would start again if she closed her eyes. It was when Nyagonar decided to join a group of displaced people going to Pagak.
“We walked for two months with very little food and water. I didn’t know anybody and I was. I’m still alone. Many died on the way or couldn’t continue. We had to cross rivers by boat or swimming and sometimes got the chance to eat and drink if we passed by villages where people weren’t fighting,” she told us as she can no longer hold her tears back.
After a journey of 290 kilometres to Pagak, Nyagonar was identified by UNICEF and partners as one out of 170 unaccompanied or separated children in need of immediate support. There are now 14 Family Tracing and Reunification programmes helping 3,216 children like Nyagonar throughout South Sudan. UNICEF has reunified 251 unaccompanied and separated children with their parents or close relatives.
Sadly, Nyagonar has not yet been reunited with her mother.
“I’m scared that my mother isn’t alive but I hope other people will take care of me. I have nobody else.”
Before conflict broke in South Sudan last December, Nyagonar was in school finishing 4th Grade. She dreamed of being a teacher but her ambitions now resume to peace and seeing her mother again.
“I want to go back and study again but only if there is a safe place. I only want my mother and to go back home. Sometimes I wake up with lots of people holding me because they say I’m shouting and moving a lot. I’m scared I will never be able to have a nice sleep again.”
To date, UNICEF and partners have reached 22,930 children with critical child protection services, including the psychological support they need to recover from the horrific violence they have seen and experienced.
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*Name changed to protect her identity