UNMISS peacekeepers support orphans in South Sudan with a surprise spring-cleaning spree
Silvia Kidon has lived at the Juba orphanage for a decade. Her mother died when she was young and she doesn’t know where her father is.
The 19-year-old is one of the casualties of war in conflict-ridden South Sudan where a third of the 12 million population is displaced either internally or as refugees in neighbouring countries.
She lives with fifty other orphans at a facility in the center of the capital city, Juba. The youngest resident is just a few months old.
“It’s so hard for us. We lost our parents and we are just alone,” says Silvia Kidon. “But, because I am here, there is nothing wrong. I am happy. These people who are with us here – they are like our parents.”
The orphanage is supported by the Government, but also relies heavily on charitable donations. While there is plenty of love and affection for the children, the resources available to support them are limited.
The dormitories are dark and stacked with bunk beds covered only in a blanket. The children have few possessions and wear ill-fitting clothes and shoes. The managers are proud though that all the children go to school and some are even at university.
“The objective of the center is to keep and support these children so that they will get an education,” says the supervisor of the orphanage, Abdul Wago. “Secondly, we want to make them self-reliant, so they can depend on themselves. Thirdly, we want to make them good citizens so that tomorrow they can help in the development of the state here.”
Peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) are making a contribution by visiting regularly when off-duty and providing support where they can.
“I look back at my kids back home and they have unlimited access to toys and entertainment and loving families and people who care for them and support them and that infrastructure doesn’t exist here in South Sudan,” says Major Louis Batson. “I think that’s why we are here to help the kids and if we are not here to help the kids then why are we here.”
On a swelteringly hot Saturday morning, more than 70 UNMISS personnel – military, police and civilian – from a dozen different countries gather at the center to do some desperately needed spring-cleaning. The children join in as part of a process to educate them about the need to be vigilant about hygiene.
They help the adults carry furniture from the buildings and wash it clean. Floors are swept and dirt is scrubbed from the walls. What little bedding the children have is washed and aired in the hot sun. Bathrooms are scrubbed clean and disinfected to reduce the risk of waterborne disease. Overgrown weeds are cut back to make it safer for the children and to enable vegetables to be grown.
While the children are eager to help, they’re a little more excited about the prospect of sharing lunch with the peacekeepers and enjoying some playtime during a break in the cleaning marathon. They carefully stack blocks together, colour in pictures of cartoon characters with the few pencils they have, and laugh at photos taken of them on a peacekeeper’s phone.
The orphanage operators are grateful for the support from the UNMISS team and the shared commitment to helping the children reach their full potential.
“There is a lot of opportunity if they study properly,” says the Juba Orphanage Director, Angelo Keny Samuel. “If we give them a proper life, they will have the opportunity to get ahead and to work. They will have the opportunity to even become governors, ministers, teachers, pilots, or engineers if we give them the support they need. They will be leaders of tomorrow.”
The orphanage also looks to the children’s future by trying to trace their extended families in the hope of reuniting them. This is a huge challenge given the ongoing conflict and displacement.
But for all those who care for these children, it is a chance to help them reconnect with their communities and access the opportunities they need to realize their dreams.