THE BLOG

Kids in Camps

10/03/2015 01:44 | Updated 06 May 2015

"The only thing that will stop my pursuit of an education, is death" - Grace 17, Kenya, 2015

Imagine, one night, you have to gather what you can carry and run for your life.

I set out to South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya to meet internally displaced persons and refugees who'd had to do just that, to see what impact camp life has on children and on their futures.

This is a snippet of my journey and of the stories I heard from the inspiring children I met.

When I first arrived at the Karen hotel in Juba, South Sudan, I found a pretty basic room with leaky toilet and an air conditioning unit that was not quite cool; today, returning from the Mingkaman Camp in Awerial, South Sudan, it feels like a palace.

My trip to Mingkaman Camp starts with a helicopter flight. From the air, you really appreciate how vast the camp is. Tents are spread like huts in little clusters. I say tents, but these are no more than plastic sheeting, held up with bits of wood and the odd bit of rope. Most leak, and there's certainly no built in ground-sheet.

Once we land, I am met by the driver who takes us to the compound where I am to stay. Along the way we pass a thriving market, where I notice quite a few children shoe shining and fixing bicycles. We see women and children on the roadside selling things, but very few men. Many of whom, I later learn, are either dead, or stayed behind to fight.

The compound has a main gate. To the right is the tin roofed common room, to the back are wash rooms and to the left, the accommodation area: green army-style tents, sleeping two, lined up in a row and raised off the ground in case of rain. Each bed has a mosquito net as malaria is rife.

This was to be my home for the next 10 days and it was here that met Anna (14) and Grace (17) for the first time.

The two sisters had to flee their home in the middle of the night as the rebels attacked their town of Bor. They saw people die, climbed over bodies and watched children drown in the river Nile as they tried to cross the water.

Fourteen year old Anna felt so passionately about the need for an education she'd joined a Social Advocacy Team, which walks through the camp with a megaphone persuading kids to go to school and realise a better future than one selling sweets by the side if the road.

Anna also takes part in the local camp intranet radio station, broadcasting her message that education means a future. She tries her best to study in her makeshift tent as the rain leaks in.

Anna's sister, Grace, has one of the strongest, most empowering stories I have ever heard.

With no secondary school in the camp Grace decided to leave, on her own, for Kenya in search of her dream - to graduate as a doctor and return to South Sudan to help rebuild her home.

For a seventeen year old girl to travel alone in Africa is one thing but for her to do it across borders in time of war is another.

As Grace heads to Kenya she is chased by machete wielding killers and for three days has to run and hide.

She makes it out alive and travels to Bungoma where she sits an entrance exam, gets accepted by a school but faced with school fees she can't pay, must travel back to South Sudan to see if her father (a preacher) can raise the money. On the way back she is attacked again, this time robbed at gunpoint. If that was a movie script you'd tell me it was a little over the top! This really happened.

It should be the right of every child to have an education but more than that - as Grace also says - education is the way to build a country. As a film maker, what I have witnessed is a tragedy. In Africa today, thousands of bright young minds are being lost in a sea of war and displacement.

It was amazing to meet a new generation of young women in Africa, such as Anna and Grace, who are striving at all costs to empower themselves through education. The tragedy is that they are desperately trying to do this in a time of war and displacement and without quick action, and as the dry season takes hold and a pending famine overhangs the region, I fear their dreams will be lost in the dust.

Kids in Camps, a 60 minute documentary, will screen on BBC One during Comic Relief week, on the 10th March at 10.45pm