Today is World Refugee Day. Globally, there are currently more than 65.6 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. More than half of them are children. Global displacement figures are still on the rise with South Sudan being the fastest growing displacement crisis. Our Portfolio Manager for East Africa – Humanitarian Emergency Affairs specialist Mwiyeria Munyeki shares her reflections of a childhood in Kenya and the stark difference to what child refugees are facing in East Africa now.
I don’t know about you, but when I was 16, living in Kenya, attending private school, living on a farm with my parents, my greatest concern was having to wake up and head to school. An 8am start and 4pm finish, 5 days a week.
I would be punished for “forgetting” my bright red tie (my school had questionable fashion sense – blue trousers, red tie, grey sweater and white shirt (see picture, that’s me with the wide grin), or my PE gear. I would rush to finish my homework the morning of submission. Despite all this, somehow I was elected to be the school head prefect. They probably figured out that the only way to get me to wear a ridiculously loud red tie was to appoint me as enforcer.
I would spend my days wondering whether my crush would notice me. I had a pretty average teenage experience. None of us would choose to relive our teenage years, not even if we were paid to do so. But in many areas around the world, teenagers face difficulties even adults struggle to deal with.
You are 16 years old, the oldest of 3. One day, the violence that you have heard whispers about, the one ravaging your community, knocks on your door. Your mum hurriedly hands you a bag, your dad motions for you and your sibling to head out the door. You and your family must leave before any of you get hurt. You are on the run, and fall into the ambush of armed men. They question your father as to why you are fleeing, and as he attempts to explain, they shoot him in the head and in the back. You scream, you hear your mum and siblings scream. The men grab your mother and run off with her. She calls out to you and asks you to take care of your siblings. Another armed group arrives and helps you bury your father. Over the next 3 months, you and your siblings live with this armed group, and eventually, you proceed to Uganda, with your siblings in tow.
What a rosy and privilege filled childhood I had in comparison.
This story, shared by our colleagues in Uganda, is not unique. Since July 2016, World Vision has identified and documented more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors, separated children and children at risk. 59% of the close to 1 million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda are children. These children have faced unimaginable violence and uncertainty. Many have witnessed the death of family members; others have no idea where their parents or siblings are.
Protecting children begins with ensuring that their immediate needs are met. That’s why since March 2014, World Vision Uganda has been responding to the South Sudan refugee crisis by providing food, water, sanitation and hygiene services, livelihoods empowerment, education and child protection services. World Vision is identifying unaccompanied and separated children as well as children at risk and referring these cases identified to organisations that specialise in tracing and reunification, and medical services.
In addition, World Vision is establishing child friendly spaces in collaboration with the community, to provide child protection, peace building and psychosocial support. Programmes for adolescent girls and boys will be provided to help develop their assets and promote peaceful co-existence. Thanks to our partnership with the World Food Programme, we are distributing food rations for an average of 450,000 refugees monthly, including 292,498 children across 5 districts.
More still must be done. The response is poorly funded, and one of the consequences has been the halving of cereal rations for more than 800,000 South Sudanese refugees. We have a long way to go, I pray that we find renewed strength, I pray that we remain hopeful and push on and I pray for our colleagues in the field who are providing the much-needed assistance to the most vulnerable.
A complex hunger crisis driven by drought, conflict and political instability has left over 25 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda in need of life-saving assistance. Help provide urgent assistance to children and families facing food insecurity, donate now: www.worldvision.com.au/eastafrica