Food shortages trigger truancy in South Sudan camps

News Stories, 11 June 2014

© UNHCR/P.Rulashe
A young refugee from Sudan climbs a lalop tree near Gendrassa camp. Children are missing school to forage for leaves and berries due to food shortages.

GENDRASSA REFUGEE CAMP, South Sudan, June 11 (UNHCR) Thirteen-year-old Mohamed Jaffir is one of hundreds of Sudanese children forced to pick the bitter leaves and twigs of the lofty lalop tree to supplement their family's food needs in the Gendrassa Refugee Camp.

The country around the camp in South Sudan's Maban County is dotted with lalop, or desert date, trees; children climb high and throw down young branches to smaller children on the ground, who pluck the tender leaves. Thousands have skipped school in the search for food in the county's four refugee camps.

A stone's throw away from Mohamed, his mother queues to receive a five-day ration of sorghum, lentils and oil. Experience in the camp has taught refugees here that those quantities will not last long. Wild leaves, roots and berries are a way to supplement meagre rations, especially during long stretches between food distributions.

Truancy has become a major problem as children sacrifice their education and spend their time picking the lalop leaves and berries, stripping fresh buds off baobab trees, and digging for roots in earth that has softened since the rains started. Though community leaders have been approached by UNHCR about regular school attendance, the response has been muted.

Mohamed says he uses the afternoon to collect leaves. His mother relies on him to care for his five younger siblings, ages ranging from two to 12 years, and to help put food on the table. Slim and wiry, he shows a bunch of twigs in his hand. "These are the ones the camels haven't nibbled on," he says, as he throws the twigs down. "Mother will cook them with the sorghum we will receive today."

The lalop tree is prevalent in the area and its leaves are edible but bitter. Some young children have stomach aches after eating them.

Osman Difala, an elder in the Gendrassa camp, is well known for his advocacy regarding the importance of education for refugee children and laments the current situation. "It is something we ourselves don't like to see, but without food the children cannot continue going to school," he says.

Any fall from the lalop trees, which are 15-23 metres high, could mean disaster for a child. Difala is distressed that children are being killed in falls from high trees. Two young children, both around eight years old, fell to their death recently in the Gendrassa and Kaya camps.

Others sustain injuries as they climb higher up the gnarled trunk to get to the leaves they're told to pick. Difala adds that some parents also send children back to the homes they fled from in neighbouring Sudan's fertile Blue Nile state to help cultivate family plots as safety nets against food shortages elsewhere.

Jockshan Foryoh, an education officer for UNHCR, says school enrolment is a major casualty of the food shortages in the four Maban refugee camps that house about 125,000 refugees.

"Since February this year, it has dropped to around 20,000 compared to the 30,000 students who registered last year," he says. For over a year Foryoh has steered UNHCR's interventions in education, including upgrading classrooms from tents to semi-permanent structures; providing stationery and textbooks; enrolling and training teachers; providing English-language courses; and issuing uniforms for almost all pupils in refugee schools.

"Food shortages are preventing children from attending school regularly. This is making a mockery of our efforts to promote child development and build their skills, capacity and resilience from early childhood through adolescence and young adulthood," says Foryoh. "If we're not able to keep children in school, 2014 will be a wasted year."

By Pumla Rulashe in Gendrassa Refugee Camp, South Sudan

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Children

Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

Donate to this crisis

Education

Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the violence. Many have made their way to European Union countries, finding sanctuary in places like Germany and Sweden. Others are venturing into Europe by way of Bulgaria, where the authorities struggle to accommodate and care for some 8,000 asylum-seekers, many of whom are Syrian. More than 1,000 of these desperate people, including 300 children, languish in an overcrowded camp in the town of Harmanli, 50 kilometres from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. These people crossed the border in the hope of starting a new life in Europe. Some have travelled in family groups; many have come alone with dreams of reuniting in Europe with loved ones; and still others are unaccompanied children. The sheer number of people in Harmanli is taxing the ability of officials to process them, let alone shelter and feed them. This photo essay explores the daily challenges of life in Harmanli.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

South Sudan Crisis: One Year OnPlay video

South Sudan Crisis: One Year On

Uganda: A Father's TroublesPlay video

Uganda: A Father's Troubles

Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.
Uganda: A Father's TroublesPlay video

Uganda: A Father's Troubles

Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.