Charity Manena (10) has fled from her village together with her mother and siblings - and she is now living in Yei and is back in school. Here she is in the classroom with her classmates.
South Sudan

Escaping the horrors of war through school

School is ten-year-old Charity's safe haven, a treasured place where she can escape the memories of the day the brutal war in South Sudan reached her village.

“I heard the sound of gunfire and I saw my uncle be shot and killed. I was scared,” she recalled.

Life for Charity and her family is no longer the same.

Together with her siblings and their mother Alice, she has sought protection in Yei – about a day’s walk south of their home village. The displaced family has moved into an empty house, vacated by another family, who once were also forced to flee.

Alice was able to bring her children to safety after armed men entered their home and tore their lives apart. Despite feeling relatively safe now, the memories of that day are still haunting them.

“My children are too scared. There is no happiness,” she said. “It makes me cry to see them this way.” 

Read also: South Sudanese people long for peace as key deadline passes.

Alice Kaya and her daughter Charity are standing in front of their temporary home in Yei. The family fled Mukaya in late 2017. 

Photo: NRC/Tiril Skarstein
Read caption Alice is doing what she can to help her children deal with life at their new place – and the memories from the conflict they fled. Photo: NRC/Tiril Skarstein

New displacement

Despite a peace agreement signed last year, conflicts are continuing to drive people from their homes in several parts of South Sudan. Yei is experiencing a steady influx of people leaving neighbouring villages in search of safety.

More than half of the displaced population are children and many are without access to adequate education.

Frightened children are forced to adapt to an unfamiliar place, many bearing the psychological scars of war. School is often the best place for children to attempt to heal those invisible wounds. 

School clears my mind and makes me think that I can be a good person. That is why I want to go to school.
Levi Hakim, Charity's classmate

NRC is providing education in emergencies programmes for displaced children in several parts of South Sudan. In Yei, more than 5000 children are back to school, thanks to support from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

Read caption Photo: Tiril Skarstein/NRC

Back at school

After the chaos of that unimaginable day, Charity is almost back to her normal routine.

Every day she picks up her school bag and walks to St. Thomas Primary Schoolnot far from her temporary home.

NRC has built a new school building and is supporting the education activities.

“Education is important for everyone, but it is especially important for children affected by emergencies. It can help them cope with life in a new place, give them some routines and support in a new and challenging environment and it reduces the likelihood of children being abducted by armed groups or pushed into child labour,” says NRC’s education specialist Fred Can Wat. 

St. Thomas primary school in Yei, South Sudan. The school is providing education for children displaced by conflict - who have come to Yei for safety. NRC has built a new school building and latrines, and is running the education program with support from ECHO. 
Photo: NRC/Tiril Skarstein
Read caption NRC has built a new school building (to the right) at St. Thomas primary school in Yei, allowing the school to provide education for the many displaced children in the area. Photo: NRC/Tiril Skarstein

Wanting to fly

At school, children learn how to deal with the memories of war, and education offers them hope for a better future.

“School clears my mind and makes me think that I can be a good person. That is why I want to go to school,” explains Levi Hakim – one of Charity's classmates.

“I am happy to be back at school again. I want to go to school and learn so that I am able to understand how to drive a vehicle or maybe become a pilot in the future. I want to take people to other locations. I want to see Juba (the capital of South Sudan), Kenya and Uganda,” says Charity.

Her whole face is smiling as she shares her dreams for the future.  

Investing in the future

Charity's brave mother Alice is ready to do everything in her power to ensure that her children are able to continue their education.

“If my children are educated in the future, they will be able to take care of themselves. And if they are happy, I will not have any worries, she said. 

Levi Hakim (in white shirt) has fled from Mukaya and found protection in Yei, where he is attending NRC's Education in Emergencies classes. 

"At the time we fled there were a lot of gunshots and we started to run. I was scared. We heard a lot of gunshots. The only thing we could bring was something for cooking and a jerry can. The mattresses and our other belongings were burned. Our house was set on fire.
At the time we ran they had already set the house on fire.
The whole family fled together."

They were two sisters, six brothers,  him and his parents. 

"We were using a bike. My father was bringing me and a young sister by bike. We fled in the morning and reached here by 3 pm." 

"The situation here is okay. School cleans my mind and makes me think that I can be a good person in the future. That is why I want to go to school. 

In the future I want to repair vehicles. That is what I want to learn. To repair and to drive.

I am hoping for peace. If there is peace, people will live freely. If there is stability we will go back. If peace is there."

The photo is from St. Thomas primary school in Yei, South Sudan. The school is providing education for children displaced by conflict - who have come to Yei for safety. NRC has built a new school building and latrines, and is running the education program with support from ECHO. 
Photo: NRC/Tiril Skarstein
Read caption Levi Hakim (in white shirt) has fled from his home village and found protection in Yei, where he is now studying together with other displaced children and children from the neighborhood. Photo: NRC/Tiril Skarstein