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A Lost Childhood

Too many children are being forced to abandon their homes and school every single day. They live in poverty, risking their lives and futures simply to survive. 

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.

Help protect children

“There was war in South Sudan. That’s why we came to the [Palorinya] camp,” recalls Mary, who escaped with her family to northern Uganda five years ago. “My father died when I was younger.”
Mary’s father was killed in South Sudan’s conflict and upheaval, which saw armed groups commit rape and sexual violence, destroy property, rob entire villages, and recruit children into their ranks. Mary's mother, seeking safety, fled with her children to the Palorinya refugee camp across the border.
“We came on foot to Palorinya and were given a plot of land to live on,” says Mary.

A refugee camp is a hard, dangerous place to be a child


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.

How your donation can help


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.

“The group advised me to return to school,” recalls Mary. “They told me that while things are hard now that I would have a brighter future if I can just complete my education. I know now that education is important to me because no one else is helping us. If I do not study, who is going to help me?”
After discovering her living conditions, the Male Action Group also built a second house on Mary’s small plot of land so she could finally have privacy and a space of her own.

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.

Build more safe spaces

“During school days, we don’t have breakfast,” says Mary, adding that porridge is a special treat, reserved for weekends and only if they have flour. “I do well in some lessons because I have learned to adapt to this situation, but it affects my performance in class. If I had the opportunities that other children had, I think I would perform very well.”

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.

Please donate now

*Names have been changed to protect individuals’ identities.


A dangerous journey to safe hands

The birth of a child is normally a time of joy. But for the most vulnerable families around the world, it can be filled with fear and uncertainty. One mother’s story shows how a lack of adequate maternal and child health care can be devastating for generations of women and children.

By Rita Mu

In remote Kalaki District, in east Uganda, children play in their villages as parents tend to household chores and farming activities.

Dirt roads and paths, spanning across kilometres through bushland, connect homes to schools, health facilities and bustling cities. Some families, if they have enough money, pay for a vehicle to get to these places. For most, however, it is a long and, often, dangerous journey on foot.

For Joyce* and her family it is about a six-hour walk to the nearest health centre. Joyce has made the journey many times – when her babies were sick, and when she was pregnant and in labour.

Joyce lives with her husband, their eight children, and their granddaugther, Rose*, in a poor, remote village in Kalaki. 
The family rely on the growth and sale of crops such as maize, millet, beans and cassava for income.
It is a difficult life, but Joyce works hard to put food on the table.
She is strong and resilient – she has to be for her children.
Over the past few years, however, Joyce has experienced unimaginable heartbreak.
She lost two of her children. Both died because of complications during childbirth.

The first child was a newborn. Joyce had walked close to six hours, fighting through labour pains and contractions, to her nearest health centre to give birth, only to find the facility closed due to a lack of staff and funding. There were no doctors or nurses in sight. Out of time and nowhere else to go, Joyce gave birth on the verandah.

Sadly, her baby died. “The baby didn’t even cry,” Joyce says. “I had no idea what the problem was. If the nurse was present she would have been able to deliver my baby, check and find what the problem was.”

The loss of child, and a mother

A year after losing her baby, Joyce found herself grieving the loss of another child, her 18-year-old daughter Grace*.

Grace was a shy teenager, but she had many friends.
She loved children, and wanted to become a teacher.
Grace became pregnant at the age of 18.
She never spoke about her pregnancy to her family, but Joyce suspected she was pregnant and made sure Grace attended all the recommended antenatal check-ups.
Joyce and her husband were out when Grace went into labour.
They came home just as Grace was about to give birth. Hours from the nearest health centre, and with no skilled health professional present, Grace delivered a baby girl at home.
Soon after, Grace passed away.

“I can’t tell what really happened because she never told us about any unusual pain,” Joyce says. “She was sweating like someone was pouring water on her. We checked and checked on her. She was not breathing.”

Grace did not even get the chance to meet her baby.

Joyce welcomed a beautiful granddaughter – Rose – into the world that day, but lost her daughter.
And Rose lost her mother.
Today, Rose is almost two years old.
Joyce is raising Rose as her own. "People have suggested I take her to an orphanage or somewhere else," Joyce says, "but I can't do that."
"I will do my best to raise her myself."

It has been almost two years, but Joyce still does not know the cause of Grace’s death.

“If she had reached the hospital the doctors could have figured out what the problem was,” Joyce says.

A huge gap between rich and poor

Stories like Grace’s are all too common in poor, remote communities around the world.

Ninety-four per cent of all maternal deaths around the world occur in low and lower middle-income countries.

Statistics like this highlight the huge gap between rich and poor when it comes to accessing quality maternal health care.

A baby born in Uganda is 11 times more likely to die than a baby born in Australia. For every 1,000 births, 33 infants die in Uganda compared to three infant deaths in Australia.

The difference in maternal death rates between Uganda and Australia is even more staggering. In Uganda, 375 mothers die for every 1,000 births, compared to only six maternal deaths in Australia.

Mothers and babies are dying from complications during, and after, pregnancy and childbirth. Common complications include severe bleeding or infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, obstructed labour, malaria and heart disease. These complications are often preventable or treatable with the help of a skilled health professional.

However, for mothers and babies living in poverty and remote villages, one of the major barriers to accessing quality maternal and child health care is the long distance they need to travel, usually on foot, to health facilities. Health services are few and far between for families like Joyce’s.

Basic maternal and child healthcare services are often under-resourced and under pressure. The COVID-19 pandemic has further strained these services.

*Names have been changed.

How you can help

Your support can help mothers and babies access the health care they need, and be in safe hands.

Donate now

ChildFund is working with local partners and skilled health professionals on the ground in disadvantaged communities to deliver interventions such as:

Health outreach clinics: Skilled health professionals such as nurses at these clinics provide essential services such antenatal care, COVID-19 and child vaccinations, family planning, nutrition assessment of children, and malaria testing and treatment.

Community health volunteers: Trained village-based health volunteers identify and treat common illnesses and diseases such as malaria, which can lead to maternal anaemia, miscarriage, or premature delivery if left untreated. They also connect pregnant mothers with skilled health professionals and antenatal care services.

Birthing kits: Clean birthing kits help pregnant mothers living in remote villages deliver their babies at home more safely if they cannot access a health facility. These kits include the necessary tools and equipment, such as clean sheets, soap, gauze, and a new scalpel and clamps to cut the umbilical cord, for a safer delivery at home.

Medicines and medical supplies: Increased demands for health services and travel restrictions around the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to shortages in essential medicines and medical supplies.

Breaking a multi-generational cycle

No mother should lose a child, and no child should lose their mother during childbirth.

Please donate now

For Joyce, the loss of her baby and her teenage daughter Grace has been too much.
“Even today I don’t have peace in my heart,” Joyce says.

You can help mothers and babies access the health care they need to be in safe hands.

Please donate now