During the devastating civil war in Sudan which left 1.5 million people dead, many children and families in the country lived in desperate poverty and deprivation. The civil war officially came to an end in 2005 with the declaration of a peace deal. In a 2010 referendum on independence, southerners voted in favour of becoming independent from the North, and from this Saturday, South Sudan will become an internationally recognised country.
It was in the context of the years of violent civil war that SOS Children decided to set up an Children’s Village in Khartoum in northern Sudan, to provide permanent care for 140 orphaned and abandoned children. In order to provide support for the wider community, many struggling to care and provide for their children, SOS also established various social and educational programmes in the area surrounding the Village.
In 2002, SOS established a second SOS Children’s Village and Youth Home in Malakal, in South Sudan. Throughout the civil war, SOS also initiated Emergency Relief Programmes in both the North and the South to provide nutritional support and medical care to the most vulnerable. A project was set up close to the Children’s Village in Malakal, in cooperation with other NGO's, to focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers. Children traumatised by the effects of the civil war received psychological support, were given the chance to complete an education and were prepared to return to normal life. The programme was a success, with the children returning to their families and communities by the end of 2009.
The majority of the population of South Sudan have high expectations for the birth of their new state and the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is keen for the new state to be "secure and stable". Ali Mahdi, the director of SOS Children in Sudan, is positive about the changes and has been preparing for the separation since it was announced last year. “We want the children to be ready and happy to start a new life in a new country” he explains “it will be great for the children to witness a birth of a nation and the making of history.”
However, there is also widespread uncertainty about the nature of the transition, and how this will work in practice. South Sudan's infrastructure is underdeveloped in terms of food supply, the educational system, medical care and public roads. Ongoing tensions have also led to violent conflicts and attacks on the civilian population throughout the last few months, particularly around the boarder between the North and the South. In March 2011, even the SOS Children's Village in Malakal was caught in the line of fire and had to be evacuated.
Throughout the changes, SOS Children will continue to work for children and families in both Sudan and South Sudan. SOS are currently carrying out assessments of children without parental care and families in urgent need of help. The newly formed SOS office of South Sudan will manage the existing programmes in the new country, as well as implementing new projects to help those most in need.
You can read an interview with Australian photographer Conor Ashleigh, who recently returned from Sudan and shares his experiences.
Twadod Tag, 18, (from Khartoum in Sudan) tells us how she feels about the South's independence: