South Sudan – Healing through Play

LWF Engages Refugee Community in Child-Friendly Spaces in South Sudan

Refugee children play together in a child friendly space created by LWF in a refugee camp in Maban, South Sudan. © LWF/Melany Markham

Refugee children play together in a child friendly space created by LWF in a refugee camp in Maban, South Sudan.                                  © LWF/Melany Markham

(By Melany Markham, Nairobi based LWF regional communications coordinator)

MABAN, South Sudan/GENEVA, 17 January 2013 (LWI) – It is late afternoon at the Yusuf Batil refugee camp. A group of over 100 children are playing various games in the grounds of a school. Girls jump rope and boys play football. As the sun sinks lower one or two adults join in and lead the children in song and action games. The scene is not spontaneous. It is the result of a deliberately designed ‘child-friendly space.’

Child-friendly spaces are created during emergencies to respond to children’s needs. According to guidelines published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), they should be established quickly and can help protect, nurture and educate children in an informal way, as well as serving as an entry point to aid for affected communities.

Simply put, they are places where children can play together safely. After fleeing violence, enduring diseases like malaria and separation from their families, simple games can help restore a child’s happiness and bring them closer to a normal life.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has set up two child-friendly spaces at the Yusuf Batil refugee camp in Maban county in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. Like similar spaces created in other camps where the LWF collaborates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they are located within schools. There are 386 children (186 boys and 200 girls) registered there. After classes have finished for the day, volleyballs, skipping ropes, hula-hoops, badminton sets and other games are distributed and the fun begins.

Children need a broad range of activities to cater for their different needs. While a four-year-old girl might be happy singing songs and dancing, the same activity might not hold the attention of a 12-year-old boy. One of the most popular games at the camp schools is football. Second to that is jump rope and some of the girls obviously practice regularly if their energy and enthusiasm is any indication.

Children from Different Backgrounds

Igga Idraku Pasteur, a child protection officer for the LWF in Yusuf Batil says it is important that children learn to play together. Not only does it help them heal their emotional wounds, but it helps reduce conflict in the long-term as children from different backgrounds learn to get along with one another. For this to happen, Pasteur and his colleagues must have the help of the communities themselves, so LWF engages refugees to supervise the children while they play.

At Yusuf Batil 12 facilitators (five women and seven men) have been appointed. They know what their roles are as well as their responsibilities, the principles of child rights and the concept behind child-friendly spaces. To bolster children’s protection in the refugee camp, the LWF has also established child protection committees and each child-friendly space has its own committee with a balanced representation of men and women.

Emergencies can have a hemorrhaging effect on communities, disrupting routines, services and support for children and reducing people’s ability to care and protect their own, says Pasteur. Involvement in child-friendly spaces helps them protect and support their children again. This is why it is critical that the community’s own networks, people, and resources are used to maintain the spaces. Parents, grandparents, religious leaders, women’s groups and youth groups can all play a role in keeping children safe and helping them heal, he adds.

According to the UNHCR, there are more than 112,000 people from Sudan living at Yusuf Batil and other refugee camps in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. As the sun sets, the games at the child-friendly spaces finish for the day and children head home. Tired, but happy, for a moment at least, their troubles have melted away.

(By Melany Markham, Nairobi based LWF regional communications coordinator)

Posted in Emergencies, South Sudan Refugee Crisis | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the LWF World Service team in Geneva to all of our staff, colleagues, partners and supporters

World Service XMas Card 2012 (3)

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LWF DRC – Displaced DRC Families Want to Return Home but Security Is Not Guaranteed

LWF Distributes Food at IDP Sites

LWF team member Patrick Kalubi examines a list of names at a food distribution center in Goma, DRC. © LWF DRC/Fred Otieno

LWF team member Patrick Kalubi examines a list of names at a food distribution center in Goma, DRC.                                           © LWF DRC/Fred Otieno

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo/GENEVA, 12 December 2012 (LWI) – Sitting on a sack filled with clothes on the back of a truck, nine-year-old Faustin flashes a smile.

“I’m happy because I will have a chance to go back to school where we live in Rutshuru. I hope to see my friends Antoine and Paul again,” he says as the truck begins to move, perhaps marking the end of his life in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Faustin and his family were among the estimated 140,000 people displaced in November around the city of Goma, when a new wave of fighting flared up in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) North Kivu province. The M23 rebels have conditionally pulled out of the Goma region, and some of the IDPs are beginning to return home. Peace talks between the DRC government and the rebels are going on in neighboring Uganda.

According to a 7 December report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), the power struggle between government troops and the M23 forces caused “massive population displacement and suffering.”

Faustin’s family was travelling back in a convoy of 11 trucks and 10 mini-buses that transported the first group of 750 voluntary returnees who had been staying at the Don Bosco Center in Goma. Pregnant and lactating mothers, people with disabilities and the elderly rode in the mini-buses, the rest sat on the backs of trucks.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and partners in the ACT Alliance network have been supporting voluntary return of IDPS to their homes or to settlement centers. But the LWF has temporarily suspended the transport facilitation for voluntary returnees because of insecurity in some of the areas.

“The security situation is not encouraging for people to return to Kibumba, Rugare, Rumangabo, Kalengera and Kabaya areas north of Goma. Cases of women being raped have been reported. Men and boys feel threatened, as there are reports of young men being abducted by the rebels,” said Ms Mapendo, a displaced woman, after returning from an assessment visit facilitated by the LWF to her area of origin.

Emile Mpanya, the LWF representative in DRC and head of the Department for World Service (DWS) country program there participated in the 11 December joint assessment visit that also included the German Protestant aid agency Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (DKH) and UNHCR to some of the places where IDPs are returning, especially north of Goma.

For those who have already returned home, the LWF plans to provide “seeds to plant on their farms and support them with farm implements. But we will also continue giving food aid for three months,” says Rev. Charles Kawaya Ngenda, LWF program coordinator.

Improved Humanitarian Access

Mpanya says the recent reopening of the Goma airport has improved the delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid but the nearby presence of the M23 soldiers continues to be a concern for air traffic. Road transport has resumed but in some areas, vehicles have to pay taxes when passing through the rebel-controlled sections.

In the southwest region of Masisi, the heavy presence of government troops in preparation for a possible advance towards Goma, has forced local residents to move in large numbers to the Mugunga and Lac Vert IDP camps, while others are accommodated in neighboring villages and host families in Goma.

Scarce Resources

The LWF has been supporting displaced people in the DRC since 1994, and is collaborating with other members of the global network of churches, ACT Alliance, in responding to the humanitarian crisis brought on by the recent fighting.

Intervention will continue through food distribution at several IDP settlements in partnership with the World Food Program (WFP), targeting an estimated 120,000 people. But there are shortages, Mpanya says.

Banzira Wkizum Wani has been sheltered at the Neema Primary School in the Majengo area of Goma with his wife and six children. “We are farmers. I used to grow enough food to feed my family, now we only share the little food given to us by the humanitarian agencies. I really wish I could return to my farm,” he says.

At the city’s Ushindi Primary School, where hundreds of families are temporarily staying, there is scarcity of clean drinking water. Thirty-year-old Bola Muhawe, a mother of six including a six-month-old infant, fled 48 kilometers from Rugare to Goma. “We have been here for more than a week but apart from the shelter, we have not received enough food yet. We have some lactating mothers,” she says.

The LWF teams conduct routine checks on the sites to determine the best intervention methods despite the scarcity of resources. They also ensure that peace and order are maintained in the displacement centers and that beneficiaries are served with dignity.

Yvonne Doudou does not hide her joy when she receives assistance at Don Bosco. “I now have something to feed my family for the next ten days or so,” she says, after receiving two sacks of maize and beans and five liters of cooking oil.

Mpanya hopes the rebels and government can reach an agreement “so that people can safely return to their homes.” (873 words)

(Written for LWI by Fred Otieno, DWS Kenya-Djibouti capacity building officer, on secondment to the DRC program.)

Posted in DRC Displacement, Emergencies | Leave a comment

Batil Refugee Camp, South Sudan – a place to learn for thousands of children

A place to learn for thousands of refugee children in South Sudan

By mid October after many weeks of waiting, school tents, classroom supplies and sports equipment arrived by air in Upper Nile and were then trucked to the refugee camps in Batil and Gendrassa, currently home to more than 50,000 refugees.

In November, thanks to the tireless efforts of the LWF staff of the Emergency Hub, the Emergency roster and the LWF South Sudan program, not to mention the support from the refugee community themselves (parents and teachers), thousands of children are now back in school in the 2 camps.

The LWF’s educational work will initially include primary classes, early childhood development groups, and “child friendly spaces,” which will give children a secure place to be themselves in the midst of chaotic camp life.

Photos by Bent Simonsen, LWF South Sudan

Supervised by LWF staff , the refugee community in Batil Refugee Camp, Upper Nile, South Sudan helps to erect the school tents for their children. Batil camp is now home to more than 37,000 refugees © Bent Simonsen, LWF South Sudan



School tents and classroom supplies were airlifted from Nairobi in mid October and are now serving thousands of children in Batil Refugee Camp, Upper Nile, South Sudan © Bent Simonsen, LWF South Sudan


One of the new classrooms in Batil Refugee Camp © Bent Simonsen LWF South Sudan


Thousands of children now have a place to learn.  © Bent Simonsen, LWF South Sudan

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Maban, South Sudan – LWF in Maban has all been worth it!

Dear Colleagues,

Allow me to share with you a remarkable email I recieved below from our Head of the Emergency Hub Mairo Retief, where she describes all the challenges our fellow colleagues have been facing in setting up a new operations for LWF in Upper Nile South Sudan for the past 6 weeks. I also attach photo of the team, and hope it shows you why LWF is doing what it is doing in South Sudan.

The LWF team in Maban led by Emergency Hub Team Leader, Mairo Retief (3rd from right) © LWF South Sudan

Article below by Mairo Retief, Team Leader, Emergency Hub (East Africa) – written yesterday 18th October in Juba – when there was no internet access.

LWF in Maban has all been worth it!

Today I finally knew why I had spent 6 weeks living in the mud, heat, rain of Maban. 6 weeks of constant sweating, having insects flying all around me day and night, snakes in the compound and rats in my tent.

The last 6 weeks have been more than a challenge to say the least. Our cargo was the first hitch getting delayed due to tax exemption. This delayed us from starting up as we had no tents to put up in the camp as classrooms. We were reliant on lifts as we had no vehicle for a few weeks until UNHCR agreed to loan us a pick up, while our 2 UNHCR vehicles arrived in the country.

Then the area was flooded and we could not reach the camp nor work on our compound. A riot in one of the camps meant that tension was high and camps were again not accessible for a few days.

The final straw was an UXO that was found on our compound when our workers were digging up an ant hill. This means that none of us can move onto the compound until a demining group is brought in to deal with the UXO. Currently our national staff are staying in different places in town which is very difficult for them and not good for general morale. We are hoping that a team will come in soon to deal with the UXO.

Despite all these challenges we have now begun to see glimmers of silver lining in the muddy mess of Maban.

This Monday the first of our equipment entered South Sudan from Nairobi in a cargo plane. It has taken up to today for the first of 3 trucks to arrive in Maban from a place called Paloich where the cargo plane landed. This morning the truck was being off loaded and I saw some of the classroom tents, exercise books for children, volleyballs for child friendly spaces and chalks for teaching. It was such a good feeling knowing that we can finally move forward with our work.

In the past week our team has worked very hard to train the teachers and volunteers in the camps. We received our two programme officers who are South Sudanese – one for education and one for Child protection. Our education and child protection coordinators have been working with them in the camps to train the teachers and volunteers and to get our first school ready to be opened.

This morning we held the opening of the new school. It was a very emotional moment for me. Having been on the scoping mission to Maban in June, then on the assessment team in July and finally leading the set up team in September I now can say that despite the challenges I know why LWF has been brought to Maban and that it has all been worth it.

I walked into the school with a representative from the ministry of education, UNHCR and Unicef. The school ground was filled with up to a thousand children all waiting eagerly for the classes to start.

“the school ground was filled up with up to a thousand children all waiting eagerly for classes to start”                              © LWF South Sudan

They stood still in rows for 30 mins in the boiling sun, sweat dripping from their foreheads, but smiles beaming from their faces. We held some speeches including the local Umda (leader) giving some words. The people of Blue Nile see education as a top priority for these refugee camps and have been more than welcoming of LWF setting up schools.

Once the speeches were through the children were all taken into different classes according to their ages where they were registered by the newly recruited teachers. Some of the female teachers brought two girls to us and informed us that these girls were separated children whose parents were still in Blue Nile. This was an opportunity for our child protection staff to follow up and make sure that the girls have a home where they are taken care of, and to further follow up with ICRC on reunification of the girls with their family. Part of LWF’s child protection work is to follow up on such casers of unaccompanied minors and separated children, and here we were seeing that on the first day of our first school there was already a need for our child protection team.

I flew out of Maban at midday to Juba and will return to Nairobi tomorrow. I am leaving with a feeling of contentment knowing that we are going to do great work in these refugee camps and that we will make a big difference to the future of these children, by being there.

Please think of the team as they continue setting up more schools, and child friendly spaces in the camps whilst dealing with the numerous challenges that arise every week. For now the biggest issue is the UXO which means that we cannot bring in any more expat staff as we are still visitors in the UNHCR compound. It also means that our national staff are scattered all over the town in various compounds which is not ideal when they have only just been recruited into the LWF family.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and hopefully in the future you will all get an opportunity to visit LWF projects in Maban.

Mairo Retief, Emergency Hub, Team Leader, LWF (in Juba, 18th October 2012)

Posted in Emergencies | 2 Comments

South Sudan – an Update from LWF Upper Nile, South Sudan – 1st October 2012

An Update from LWF Upper Nile, South Sudan, 1 October, 2012

by Mairo Retief, Team Leader, Emergency Hub in Upper Nile, South Sudan

Heavy rains in recent weeks have been hampering access, movement and the start up operations in Upper Nile South Sudan       © Mairo Retief / LWF South Sudan

It has been a slow start with the flooding that reduced movement to a minimal in the last 2 weeks and then this week there was a riot between the host community and a refugee at one of the camps which meant no agencies were allowed to travel for a few days. Things are calm again and LWF program staff have landed on the ground so we are hoping to get things moving in the coming week.

The riot was related to a payment of a host to a refugee for tea in the market and escalated into 16 wounded and 1 death after the refugee beat the woman from the host community. This was a trigger to an underlying issue of the refugees coming in and using host community resources. It will only get worse and there needs to be a strong move by the camp management agencies with UNHCR to bring the two together to resolve any disputes and to discuss how best the two communities can live in harmony.

LWF have acquired land for a compound and this week a fence has been put up around it. We are still waiting for our equipment from Nairobi to come by cargo flight but the tax exemption is taking longer than expected. Once the materials arrive the team can move forward with setting up the compound, so we continue to stay at the UNHCR compound in Bunj.

We have recruited national staff in Juba and should receive education and child protection officers next week to support the expat staff.

Discussions are ongoing with Save and Intersos as to how best LWF can work in the camps in the areas of Child protection and Education. Again without our materials it becomes difficult to get activities running but we are hoping that we can get them in soon. We will begin recruiting incentive staff in the camps in the coming week and then training them. We hope that in 2 weeks we will have at least one school with ECD and CFS running.

But the pressure is on the team right now to get things moving, as we are asked in the interagency meetings how fast we can get our activities started.

Mairo Retief, Team Leader, Emergency Hub in Upper Nile, South Sudan

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Jordan – LWF to Assist Syrian Refugees in Jordan

World Service Joining Response to Record Influx

GENEVA, 29 August 2012 (LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is joining efforts to respond to the growing influx of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

A number of young refugees, including a child with Down syndrome, at Za’atari camp. LWF assistance is prioritizing children with special needs as well as adults with disabilities. © LWF/DWS/R. Schlott

On 28 August, the LWF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO), the agency mandated by the Jordanian government to manage and coordinate assistance to Syrian refugees in Za’atari refugee camp. The LWF will provide shelter, camp management, psycho-social support and education services in the camp, which is located near the city of Mafraq, some 70 kilometers from the Syrian border.

The LWF humanitarian response will form part of an ACT Alliance appeal.

An on-location assessment in mid-August by the LWF’s Department for World Service (DWS) affirmed the increasingly difficult situation for refugees there.

“What has been seen and experienced on the two visits to Za’atari camp by our colleagues and through speaking with refugees and major actors on the ground has convinced us that the humanitarian situation of the Syrian refugees is indeed very precarious,” said Rev. Eberhard Hitzler, DWS director.

On 17 August, ACT Alliance noted that the deteriorating situation in Syria was generating massive internal displacement and flows of refugees into neighboring countries.

A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) briefing on 23 August stated that there are now 61,000 Syrians who have registered as refugees in Jordan after fleeing the conflict between Syrian government and opposition forces in Syria.

The Jordanian government estimates that there are 150,000 Syrians in Jordan.

“In Jordan, a record of 2,200 people crossed the border last night (23 August) and were received at the Za’atari camp,” said Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesperson. “This brings the total number of Syrians who have been received in Za’atari camp to more than 14,500.”

He noted that further arrivals were expected.

The LWF, which has worked with refugees in Jordan as far back as 1958, will hire Jordanian staff wherever it is able. In addition, the LWF is mobilizing experienced DWS staff in Gerrit ten Velde, an emergency program manager on its Emergency Roster, as well as Tulasi Sharma, team leader of the LWF/DWS Asia Emergency Response Hub, as operations manager.

Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the LWF, said that he appreciated the efforts of the JHCO and other agencies, and pledged to assist in expanding the camp’s basic services so that the Syrian refugees could settle into a safe and secure routine.

“The LWF has a long history and longstanding expertise in refugee camp management and service delivery in places such as Kenya, Chad, South Sudan and Nepal, as part of our ongoing Christian commitment to those in need, no matter their background,” Junge remarked.

LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan, who presides over the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, expressed his deep appreciation to the Jordanian government and those of its neighbors for welcoming the Syrian refugees and providing space for the camps.

“We pray for a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict in Syria, for we believe that violence will only bring more hatred and revenge that the Middle East does not need at all. But in the meantime we are thankful that the LWF is called to offer its diaconal services in such a difficult situation in order to alleviate human suffering,” Younan said.

Both Junge and Younan appealed to communion member churches worldwide to support the effort with their prayers and financial contributions. (584 words)

Posted in Emergencies, Syrian Refugee Influx to Jordan | Leave a comment