All I want is peace - a child's testimony from South Sudan

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Children hold a sign as they prepare to march through the streets in a call for peace during the Day of the African Child celebrations in Juba, South Sudan, June, 16, 2014. UNICEF/Adriane Ohanesian

Children hold a sign as they prepare to march through the streets in a call for peace during the Day of the African Child celebrations in Juba, South Sudan, June, 16, 2014. UNICEF/Adriane Ohanesian

JUBA, South Sudan 16, June 2014 – Every time I close my eyes, I can still see images of the gunmen shooting and killing people. It feels like it happened yesterday. I’m afraid of closing my eyes or going to sleep because I re-live those bad days. I have nightmares about what I saw and they make me scream at night.

For a while, I thought I was the only one going through this, but sometimes I hear my brothers and sisters screaming too. The strange thing about these nightmares is that nobody wants to talk about them – probably because no one wants to remember those dreadful days and nights.

Before escaping from Bor, I saw many people being killed, including my relatives, and many houses were burned down. There were dead bodies of men, women and children everywhere. My family escaped to the forest where we stayed for seven days, walking along the river in search of a safe place.

The seven-day walk was the worst time in my life. In the forest there was no clean water to drink and the grass was tall and sharp; it was always cutting our feet. I still have marks from the grass cuts. We were always afraid of being attacked by snakes when we were walking in the swampy areas. Food was a luxury that no one ever dared to talk about. We ate any wild fruits we found and sometimes we went without food for days.

My family was lucky enough to get a boat ride from Bor to Mingkaman. We did not know what to expect but all we needed was to get away. You could see the sadness on everyone’s faces as we crossed over from our side of the river, but no one actually said anything.

It’s been several months since my family arrived here. Although staying in Mingkaman is not comfortable because we live in a temporary shelter, I like it here because I feel safe. I really miss my home, friends and family we left in Bor. I am not sure if they are still there or even if they are still alive.

Even though it’s safe here, life is very difficult. There are no real schools or proper health care centres and most of the time we hardly eat because we have no food and our parents have no jobs. I always wish that I had carried some sorghum from our granary back home. When it rains, it really becomes unbearable because the whole place floods.

There are nights when I hear my mother crying but I have no idea how to comfort her. I wish I could wipe away her tears, hug her and tell her that everything will be okay but I know things are not okay and I am not sure when life will go back to normal. It hurts to hear her crying and see my father lost in his thoughts. I miss the happiness and the laughter that we all used to share. When I look into the eyes of my brothers and sisters, all I see is fear – although they never talk about it.

We lost so many relatives and friends, but I am so glad that my brothers, sisters, mom and dad are all in the same place. I meet children here who have no one to take care of them because all their relatives were killed or were separated from them.

I am only twelve, there is nothing much I can do to change my situation but our leaders can do something. They can decide on whether to destroy our future or build the future of this country by investing in the children of South Sudan through education, health care, homes but most of all peace. I want to live a normal life again and be the child that I am. I do not want to spend sleepless nights worrying about gunshots or about not going to school. I want a good future for myself, my family and my country. All I want is peace.

By Garang, a 12 year old boy living at the Internally Displaced Persons settlement in Mingkaman, opposite the town of Bor on the banks of the River Nile; as told to Mercy Kolok from UNICEF South Sudan.

With generous support from donors such as the Government of Japan, ECHO and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), UNICEF through partners is assisting hundreds of thousands of women and children affected by emergencies through provision of safe water sanitary facilities, hygiene promotion, waste management, child protection including family tracing and reunification, psychosocial support, education in emergencies and health and nutrition services. UNICEF needs US$157 million for its programmes in South Sudan in 2014.

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