Frontline Stories

The Meaning of Back-to-school for Children Affected By Conflict

For children affected by conflict and disaster, back-to-school season means getting back to basics: making friends and feeling safe.

Deng Maleuth is a 15-year-old boy in South Sudan. He lives in Warrap State, one of the places where World Vision works with people who have run from the conflict. In South Sudan, 1.5 million people have been displaced by the current round of violence.

When fighting came to his village, Deng and thousands of others fled for safety. ''I walked here from Unity State in February 2014. It took so many days – three months.''

When he arrived in Warrap State, life was very challenging. ''There was no power and no food,'' he says. And worst of all – there was no family. Everyone in Deng's family had been killed in the conflict: his father, mother, brothers, and sisters. He was alone.

World Vision began its work by providing food and installing water systems, so people could drink clean water, wash clothes, and bath. For hundreds of children who had lost their immediate family, World Vision helped to find their relatives whom they could stay with. Deng found an auntie.

The children had nothing to do, so World Vision started a Child Friendly Space where they could receive informal education, and play and learn to get along with one another. World Vision trained community members to run the Child Friendly Space, and after four months, they handed the project over to the community.

''The children play football and jump rope,'' says Dominic, 35, a community leader. ''They learn how they should love themselves. When they love themselves, there will be no war among them. There are many tribes here. But with Child Friendly Space, there is no discrimination.''

Deng is part of a boys' football team, made up of children who were forced to flee and live in this community by the conflict. ''We play together. We love ourselves and we love one another,'' says Deng.

The Child Friendly Space is an ordinary place amidst a life full of extraordinary hardships, especially for orphans like Deng. It is a place where dreams diminished by the conflict stay alive – dreams like Deng's, to become a doctor someday. It is a place that helps to restore a child's basic needs. ''When I first came here, I had no friends. Now I feel safe. World Vision has made me feel safe,'' says Deng.

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