DEMOBILIZED CHILD SOLDIERS RETURN HOME
The end of August saw the return home of all but a handful of the 3,551 child soldiers brought out of Bahr el Ghazal in February. For six months they had been in transit camps in and around Rumbek. As the airfields dried out, and the word came that it was possible to begin, three buffalo-type aircraft were temporarily shifted from other activities and the numbers of children returned to their homes rapidly increased.
At the airstrips there were often hundreds of relatives and community leaders waiting to greet the returning children. A member of the family or, in some cases a guardian, signed a form saying that they were accepting responsibility for the child.
"The children were absorbed right back into their communities," said Ushari Mahmoud, a UNICEF Child Protection Officer. "We worked closely with community leaders, and it paid off. This part of southern Sudan has an ordered social hierarchy where every family is known, and we've worked within this system to make sure the children get home as quickly as possible."
A reporter from the Christian Science Monitor witnessed the return of some of the children.
"There is a timeless familiarity to the scene in Malual Kon, Sudan. Soldiers are returning from war, walking home to their villages.
As they pass through the countryside, old women in festive beads cry and clap, men in long cotton robes and knitted winter hats come out to slap them on the back, and the half-naked village children trot alongside and beg to hear stories.
The ex-soldiers smile shyly and march on - lugging packs filled with soap, pots, plastic cups, blankets, and mosquito nets, proudly sporting UNICEF T- shirts, which hang down to their knees.
But these are no ordinary veterans of combat. They are children. "The first thing I will do when I get home," says 10-year-old James Dut Kwal, a former fighter with mischievous eyes and a timid smile, "is give my blanket to my mother and kiss her." Then, he says, wiping his sweat-drenched face and reaching out to hold hands with a friend from the Army, he will get ready for school.
Seventy children were left behind in the care of Samaritans' Purse in Rumbek. Of these, nine were from the Blue Nile area and enquiries about their families are underway through UNHCR and UNICEF at refugee camps in Ethiopia.
Another 12 are from the town of Wau, and 21 Nuer children are from homes cut-off by fighting in Western Upper Nile.
UNICEF is also delivering nearly ninety specially commissioned tents, which will act as classrooms and health centres in Bahr el Ghazal until more permanent structures can be built. The agency is planning a five-year program to enhance provision of services for communities and all children in the area. Already seven tonnes of education supplies have been sent to Bahr el Ghazal.
More than seventy of the former soldiers went home having been trained as auxilary primary school teachers. Twelve from each of the eight transit camps became facilitators for "Life Skills", which contains components on HIV/AIDS and Sanitation. Another forty have been trained as hand pump mechanics. All of the children benefited from general workshops on Land Mines and HIV/AIDS Awareness, Human Rights, and Household Food Security.
The return home of the children was welcomed by UNICEF's Executive Director Carol Bellamy, who highlighted the difficulties of demobilisation while a conflict is ongoing. "Let's hope these children and young people get the full fresh start they deserve" she said, "and that world leaders are inspired by this example of action for children, even in the midst of conflict. Their demobilization was hard-won but decisive, their relocation on WFP planes was extraordinary, and their stay in the transit camps preparing to return home was rewarding for all of us. I applaud the support of WFP, aid organizations, donors, and community leaders on the ground who gave their all to making this effort a success."
Among the former child soldiers reunified with their families this month were 48 who attended the teacher training course in May-June and qualified as assistant teachers. They have taken an active part in registration activities and in communication/translation assistance within their communities. They are also practicing in schools by assisting in classroom teaching and in performing other duties. Letters of recommendation have been written to the local education authorities requesting them to support the full integration of these young teachers in the education system.
Construction work continues on the rehabilitation of the Girl's Schools in Rumbek and Yambio. Both schools will have boarding facilities for up to 300 pupils. The Yambio Task Force on Girls' Education has established evening classes for girls in each of the seven payams in the county.
Distance Teacher Training
Preparation for the first Distance Teacher Education has begun in Yambio. The course should take place in October and information has been sent to the local education authorities requesting that they begin selecting the teachers that will participate in the programme. The planning team has also visited Rumbek to assess the possibility of establishing a distance teacher education annex in Bahr el Ghazal.
The printing press has continued the production of books in Rumbek. A total of over 2,000 books for lower classes Math, English and Science have printed and distributed through the child soldiers project.
About 90 people, including 60 former child soldiers, were orientated in the Life Skills Programme in Yambio and Rumbek. These people also participated in the field-testing of the HIV/AIDS and hygiene/sanitation training modules.
Another 15 people have completed the resource workbooks on an additional seven Life Skills themes. The development of these Life Skills materials is close to completion and they are expected to be in schools by November 2001.
Over 150 education kits for an estimated 30,000 pupils have been distributed to the five counties in Bahr el Ghazal to which the former child soldiers have returned - Aweil West, Aweil East, Gogrial, Twich and Tonj. 70 large tents were also procured for use in Bahr el Ghazal. They will function temporarily as classrooms in the areas where there are no school structures.
WATER & ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION
A water analysis laboratory was launched in Rumbek this month. Two professors from the University of Nairobi trained the laboratory assistants who will be maintaining the project.
New Water Points
One hand drilled well was completed in Ikprior town, Yambio, and installed with an IMK2 pump.
Operation and Maintenance
- 36 broken handpumps were repaired by SRRA WES in Rumbek County.
- Three boreholes were rehabilitated by UNICEF contractors in Rumbek.
- Six handpumps were repaired in Yambio County.
- One handpump was repaired by the newly trained FRRA WES team in Atar village, Western Upper Nile.
- Two handpumps were repaired in Waat town.
- One handpump was repaired in Mogok.
Hygiene and Sanitation
- 19 household latrines were constructed in Rumbek County.
- 42 hygiene awareness sessions were conducted in Rumbek County. 659 people attended.
- 22 hygiene awareness sessions were conducted in Yambio County. 2,378 people attended.
- Five village-level caretakers were trained in Operation and Maintenance in Rumbek County.
- A Training of Trainers course was held in Tambura with seven pump mechanics trained.
- 20 pump mechanics and hygiene education promoters completed a Training of Trainers course in Tambura.
- Six FRRA pump mechanics were trained during a two-week Pump Mechanic Training Course in Aburoc.
- Six people successfully completed a four-day training on pump platform construction in Aburoc.