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By ChildFund Australia
Mary* was just a child when her world fell apart. At 12, she became the sole carer to her two younger brothers, David* and John*, after fleeing war-torn South Sudan. In less than a year, she had lost both her parents.
Every year, 43.3 million children around the world are displaced because of war and violence – nearly half are child refugees and asylum seekers. The trauma and loss they experience is unfathomable. Like so many children and young people in refugee camps, Mary, now 17, has already experienced tragedy.
At Palorinya, Mary and her family were assigned a small plot of land on which to construct a housing compound and raise a small vegetable garden. It was safer than a conflict zone, but the family faced extreme poverty. They lived in a shelter with one mattress and their monthly rations of beans, flour, salt, and oil didn’t feed one person, let alone four.
Soon after the family’s arrival in the camp, however, Mary’s mother returned to South Sudan. “She went back to our farm, but we have not been in touch. We only heard that she re-married when she returned to South Sudan,” says Mary, who has spent most of her childhood as her family’s caregiver.
Mary’s story is common across Palorinya, where more than 122,000 South Sudanese refugees face a daily battle to survive. It is not unusual for parents in these communities to leave camp in search of food or work opportunities, sometimes for long periods of time. While many return, this is not always the case. For children, this means fending for themselves and taking on responsibilities far beyond their years.
Mary is one of thousands of children and young people who have been displaced in Uganda and who are living without adequate food, care and shelter. Many live in constant fear and uncertainty of what the future holds.
The donations of ChildFund supporters in Australia and around the world are helping to provide three Child Friendly Spaces in the Palorinya refugee camp where children can learn, dream and stay safe from violence as they navigate their new life. Each space includes a classroom, toilet and playground.
ChildFund-trained male community leaders and members in Palorinya are also helping to protect the rights of girls and keep watch for at-risk children in the camp. The Male Action Group has had a life-changing impact on Mary, who received a visit from her local group two years ago.
Throughout Palorinya, there are so many more children like Mary at risk of the violence and exploitation that are rife in the camp. More support is needed to sustain the Child Friendly Spaces and help protect children and young people. Now that Mary is in school, she can’t work as much, which has severely affected her ability to afford food and, consequently, focus on her studies.
Life in the refugee camp is still a struggle for Mary and her brothers. But they feel safer, are attending school regularly, and finally believe that things will get better.
Your support can help children and young people pursue their dreams and have the childhood they deserve.
*Names have been changed to protect individuals’ identities.