South Sudanese refugees return to continued devastation

By May 8, 2013

South Sudan (MNN) — War: with it comes the picture of destruction. Long after the conflict is over, the scars remain in a nation.

For South Sudan, the challenge is to be able to stand on its own two feet. Social issues are prevalent but usually encompass the adult population. However, among the social issues troubling South Sudan today: street children.

Thousands of homeless kids pose a delicate but serious challenge that begs the question: whose responsibility is it to take care of them? Kids Alive International Vice President of Operations Matt Parker says while the government is trying to respond, they just don't have enough resources. That leaves the private sector. "All of us, as Christians, have a responsibility to do what we can, to be praying, to be supporting programs that are working with the weak and the vulnerable, and just to do what we can to show the love of Christ."

Nearly every town in South Sudan has street children. Roughly half of them were orphaned during the civil war; the rest left home due to neglect, cruelty– including domestic violence, or other rights abuses. UNICEF said homeless children in Upper Nile, Unity, and Jonglei States are especially vulnerable because of their proximity to ongoing clashes between rebel militias and the army. Parker notes that security is "an ongoing concern. There's the potential at any time, that the security situation could deteriorate."

However, he adds, "One positive thing we're seeing is that, at the moment, there is a little bit of easing of tensions between the two countries." The tensions will remain under the surface. Parker goes on to explain that tribal tensions will likely always exist. "For a lot of people, their allegiance to their tribe is stronger than their allegiance to their nationality."

Still, about two million people have returned to South Sudan since a 2005 peace agreement ended decades of civil war that is estimated to have killed around the same number. What they find when they get home is a picture of devastation. "People are coming back and they're coming back to a country where there is very little infrastructure, very few schools. A lot of people are coming back and they don't have any land, they don't have a home to come back to."

Resources that are already inadequate will be stretched even thinner. "There's huge poverty in the country. Very little education provision, in fact, about three quarters of the population of South Sudan is illiterate."

The overwhelming poverty leaves many parents unable to provide for their children. The strain of keeping families together often results in domestic abuse, says Parker. "I was reading a report recently which estimates that about 50% of the children that end up on the streets in South Sudan have experienced violence in the home, so that is a significant issue."

So, the children turn to the streets to escape and take their chances on survival. This is where Kids Alive International steps in. Parker says, "What we've been trying to do for the last seven years is to work with a group of children in Wau, taking these kids off the streets; we've provided them with a loving home in which to grow up."

Kids Alive focuses on the entire child. Just like Jesus, their team is concerned about the empty tummies of children as much as their empty hearts. They focus on meeting the physical, emotional, AND spiritual needs of each child through Christ-centered care, education, and ministry. Parker is enthusiastic about what a difference intervention like this makes in these lives. "I was there last week just to see the change in these children. When they come to us, they come from the most desperate circumstances, and to see the transformation in their lives is wonderful."

Some of that transformation can be attributed not only to a secure home environment, but also to the fact that "they're in school," says Parker. "They're doing well socially, with their development, but also their relationship with Christ. They're very involved in the local church. For many of them, they have a very real relationship with Christ."

Christian caregivers in the Children's Homes (20 kids), Care Centers (serving about 40 kids), and Schools nurture and encourage these children to become faithful followers of Jesus that give hope to their community. There will always be need, and the program is expanding to try to meet at least some of the needs. "We're looking to develop education programs and get other children in the community back to school, and we're looking to be working with families and supporting whole families in this community." Plus, notes Parker, "We're in the process of constructing a new children's home which will allow us to take in 16 children during that first phase, and then another 16 during the second."

Thousands of children trying to survive on the streets are at constant risk from abuse, disease, injury from gangs, and forced prostitution.

Kids Alive is part of the solution; the Gospel provides the rest. "Be praying for the kids we have in the programs right now, that we would see transformation in them and that they would put their faith in Christ as well as reaching their full potential."

Click here for details about KAI in South Sudan.

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