South Sudan: Interview with Government Minister
As SOS Children works alongside other NGOs and the South Sudan government ready for the imminent influx of refugees from the north, Helen Mboro, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Development in Central Equatoria (one of ten states in South Sudan) has been talking to our emergency support teams in Malakal and Juba, South Sudan, about the challenges that must be overcome.
“Some people say 35,000 children. Others from Khartoum say 2,000. We do not know.
“They might just put these kids at any moment in an aircraft, in a boat or on a train, and ship them down to the South.
“The huge number of kids arriving simultaneously into a town that does not have the capacity to receive them will be a big issue. But the challenge is that these are our kids; we cannot disown them as they arrive. We just have to get on with it.
“So obviously the immediate need would be the shelter, and people that would be working with them, like: social workers, food, health facilities. They were street kids or they may have been in orphanages, we are not so sure. But if they fall sick, access to health care here in Juba is expensive. We do not have free primary health services. Polio vaccination; some diseases that are maybe extinct in the north, we still have them – like mumps and chicken pox. They may need to be vaccinated.
“We are not sure of their ages. Are they from zero to 18? Are they from seven to … These are the difficulties and the dilemma we have because the database from the North has not been made available to us.
“Then of course, it’s the education of these kids, and keeping them busy while actually we are trying to sort them out. How are we going to keep small kids busy so that they are not feeling bored and beginning to run out on the streets?
“There will a language problem. Most of them will be speaking classical Arabic, while the Arabic here is very different – a market Arabic which they may not understand. They do not speak English. Even if we get them into schools, the curriculum will be different. There might be those who drop out and will not be accepted in schools. We need to provide them with vocational training so that they are equipped in some skills.
“So there will be a variety of activities that we need to do simultaneously to try and organise and keep them engaged, at the same time ensuring that every one is being attended to.
“There might be a few who are disabled also. Our toilets are pit latrines. They don’t exactly have anything that a disabled child might be able to use to assist him or herself.
“We also want to provide awareness-raising on health issues – malaria, diarrhoea are common here. There is no clean running water.
“Besides, there are the other social, spiritual and moral issues. The challenges are enormous but at the same time we don’t have any way out except to accept them.
“We have to prepare for the worst.”
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