12 months ago, 10-year old Jonathan was woken up by a smattering of gunfire outside his home in South Sudan. His family fled the fighting, and eventually ended up taking shelter in a UN base. They expected to be there for a few weeks until the fighting stopped.
Now a full year later, the fighting is still ongoing and they are still living there in tents together with many thousands of others displaced by conflict.
His family is one of the fortunate to receive protection from the UN and food and water from NGOs. Jonathan is one of two million children displaced and one of more than 150 children World Vision spoke with in our latest report (Fear & Want - Children Living in Fear in South Sudan) which sets out what life looks like for children affected by the conflict in South Sudan.
For Jonathan and the other two million children in need of assistance, this past year has been an ever-growing disaster; with around four million people in need of aid, two million refugees and needs exceeding $600m.
Being displaced from home has a significant impact on a child. It means not only a loss of material possessions, but the replacement of a familiar world with an unknown one full of uncertainty. Distant rumbling of artillery fire during our journey reminded us of the psychological impact of war on young children, including the constant presence of soldiers and weapons in their lives, a sight often more common than teachers and school books.
In many countries, children can escape such issues in the safety of their classrooms, but that has also been taken away from the children of South Sudan today. The vast majority of children my team and I spoke to wanted to be in school, but many had no or severely limited opportunity to learn, indicative of the country's 23% literacy rate.
Without the opportunity to learn many children fill their time with labour. They spend their days in shops or in the fields, working to sustain themselves and their families.
These children want nothing more than to move from a life of fear and labour to one of safety and learning.
For that to happen, the most pressing need in South Sudan is peace. Families want to go home, parents want to be able to work to feed their children who in turn want to be safe and in school. This means that those with influence in South Sudan should renew efforts to per previous agreements stop ongoing violence and create lasting peace.
But until peace efforts succeed, the people of South Sudan need significant assistance.
In addition to the huge need for food assistance to millions of people, civilians must be protected from the ongoing violence. Many say that the UN Protection of Civilian sites (POCs) offer safety, but they only host 15% of those displaced. The UN should be given resources to expand its provision of security and ensure that people outside POCs can stay in their homes, which would also decrease pressure on the already overcrowded sites.
Moreover, in order to prevent violence, those who have already been exposed to it must be provided psycho-social support to process the horrific experiences they have endured. Children told World Vision that not only are they living in fear due to persistent insecurity around them, but also because of the frightening experiences some had from fleeing their homes as the gunfire grew louder in their villages.
Jonathan, and South Sudan, is at a crossroads staring down the direction of continued conflict, food insecurity and destruction. To prevent the country from stumbling down that path and to protect Jonathan's future, the international community must provide the support the country needs until the shattered present becomes a sustainable future.
A generation of children is asking for our help to replace their fear with peace and their hunger with food.Suggest a correction