It’s just after noon at a primary school in South Sudan, near the country’s border with Uganda. The sun is high in the sky, burning down on arid ground as the afternoon breeze carries pieces of paper across the dusty, scorched red earth.
Despite the midday heat, thirteen-year-old Agau is engrossed in an energetic game with her friends in the grounds of the school, located in Melijo camp for internally displaced people (IDPs). Most of the residents in the camp were displaced from their homes in Jonglei state in July 2013 – five months before the country plunged into yet another bloody civil war.
Agau and her family fled the fighting and were resettled in the camp. Here she was able to enroll at school, her first taste of education for years. As well as learning conventional academic subjects, Agau is also learning peace building skills, through the joy of play.
Teacher David Lual has noticed how the children become more relaxed, creative and friendlier after playing games.
Through ‘Play for Peace’ I have been able to help the pupils deal with stress since many of them have suffered traumatic experiences which prevent them from focusing and learning properly.
The games we play involve a lot of role play, aimed at instilling a sense of group, unity and acceptance of diversity, and above all, to enable the children to relieve themselves of stress and be happy.
Parents are now more willing to allow their children to go to school as a way of helping them deal with their experiences of conflict.
The games have enabled children to feel like children again
Children in South Sudan continue to face an uncertain future as the conflict rages on. Many have lost their parents while others have witnessed scenes of horrific violence.
An estimated 16,000 children have been recruited by armed forces and groups since the conflict began. With traditional social structures damaged, children are also increasingly vulnerable to violence, sexual abuse and exploitation. In addition, 250,000 children face severe acute malnutrition.
Plan International’s South Sudan Child Protection in Emergency (CPiE) programme is working hard to provide educational support as well as livelihood assistance and training on disaster risk reduction and child protection.
Children like Agau and her friends are the future hope of this new country and should not be growing up in fear. Through education, play and support, we are committed to securing the next generation’s future.