Children urge political leaders to end conflict in Yei
By FRANCESCA MOLD
Children suffering from ongoing violence and poverty are urging political leaders to restore peace in the South Sudanese town of Yei.
Yei is located about 150 kilometres south of the capital, Juba, and is a strategic outpost on the main trading route with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The situation in the region is dire. Seventy percent of the population fled last year after fierce fighting erupted between Government and Opposition forces, leaving Yei largely a ghost town.
Food is scarce. People cannot tend to their crops outside the town because of ongoing insecurity, including murder, abduction, rape, and looting.
However, some children remain in the town, including a number of orphans who have sought sanctuary at the local Catholic school, Christ the King Primary School.
Student Esther Quintin said that her parents were killed when she was young and she is now living with her uncle and his family who are unable to provide her with the financial support she needs to survive.
“I don’t have parents. My friends are all dead. I don’t have anyone to support me in my education. I don’t have anything to eat or the money to support myself in education,” she said.
The school has managed to stay open throughout the crisis thanks to the commitment of 14 teachers who have remained to volunteer their time, helping the children learn and giving them a sense of security.
Christ the King Primary School Head Teacher, Taban Emmanuel Elisa, said many of the children were severely traumatized by the violence they were witnessing or being subjected to so it was important that the school to remain open to provide them with support and a sense of routine.
“We can’t surrender. That is one of our mottos at the school,” he said. “Even if problems are like that, education must continue so the generation to come should not face the challenges that we are in.”
Students who have lost their parents say that education is all they have left. For them, it is a chance for a way out and a way forward to a brighter future.
“The challenge that is facing South Sudan is the crisis that is affecting the children at our school,” said Head Boy Emmanuel Mambo. “I want to beg our leaders, let them bring peace to South Sudan so that South Sudanese children will enjoy their life like the one of long ago.”
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is considering establishing a new peacekeeping base in Yei to protect civilians and help build durable peace. Before that happens, it wants local authorities to guarantee access for peacekeepers to outlying areas and evidence of a genuinely inclusive peace process.
“This is a grassroots peace process. We want them to take the lead. It’s much better that local people take the lead and we come in and support whatever we can do rather than the UN come in as the great saviour when I don’t think we do as well as the local people,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, David Shearer.
On a recent visit to Yei, David Shearer met with political, religious and community leaders to discuss the ongoing insecurity in the region.
His visit follows the publication of a United Nations report in May, which documents human rights violations and abuses against civilians by both parties to the conflict between July 2016 and January 2017. These violations include indiscriminate shelling of civilians, targeted killings, looting and burning of property, and cases of sexual violence against women and girls. The report found that these abuses may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity and warranted further investigation.
A local peace agreement was signed in Yei last month but the community says, for peace to endure, there must first be a commitment by both sides to end the violence.
“Let us stop this war. We must stop the war because if it keeps on going then we are going to have a number of orphaned and traumatized children and this country is not going to prosper,” said Christ the King Primary School Head Teacher, Taban Emmanuel Elisa.