Foster care and reunification efforts for separated children in Gambella refugee camps

by Monica Martinez and Nadine Tatge

Nyadiet and four foster children together with neighbors and friends in Kule refugee camp Gambella
Nyadiet and four foster children together with neighbors and friends in Kule refugee camp Gambella, Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Martinez

Gambella, Ethiopia, 22 April 2015 – Nyadiet is a 50 year old South Sudanese woman who came to Kule refugee camp two years ago when her life was at risk due to the fighting in her country.

She came on her own and the whereabouts of the rest of her family are unknown. Because Nyadiet is on her own, she volunteered to become part of the foster family scheme in Kule camp, implemented by Plan International with support from UNICEF.

For five months now, Nyadiet has been fostering four siblings that also came from South Sudan. The oldest of the four siblings is a 13 year old girl called Nygua who found the bravery to bring her three younger brothers (8, 7 and 5 years old) across the border from South Sudan to Ethiopia.

During the fighting in South Sudan, Nygua and her siblings were separated from their parents and she has not heard anything from them since they left their home. The four children are thankful for Nyadiet’s care and support and they see her as their grandmother.

Nygua and her siblings are four of over 18,000 separated and unaccompanied children currently living in Gambella refugee camps. UNICEF is supporting UNHCR and other implementing partners to identify and document cases of children entering the camps and restoring family links that shall eventually lead to reunification. As an interim solution for children affected by family separation, alternative care through foster families and kinship care is being provided.

Social workers provide psychosocial support to reunification efforts

Kule refugee camp: Nyadiet’s house is on the left where she lives with he four foster childrenSocial workers attending to the children have been trained in psychosocial support. After the training, Simon, one of the social workers, says he now feels confident on how to identify children that might need further specialized services.

He analyses the interaction of children in the child-friendly spaces and especially looks out for children who seem to be isolated from the group of peers. Simon is from South Sudan himself, and he tries to keep the cultural roots and traditions of the South Sudanese refugees alive by performing traditional folklore, singing songs and telling stories in the child-friendly spaces (CFS).

These activities are crucial for the implementation of a holistic, and culturally adjusted psychosocial intervention. Psychsocial interventions provided in the CFS are tailored to the specific needs of children. Factors such as age, sex, and the different wellbeing concerns that an individual might have, are taken into account in order to provide the appropriate response.

Family tracing and reunification efforts

Nygua is attending school in the camp and sometimes she goes to the activities in the child-friendly space. In collaboration with the social workers, Nyadiet is supporting efforts to find Nygua’s parents. Plan International has already initiated the family tracing process and is working closely with the Ethiopia Red Cross Society and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Nyadiet said that she is happy with the support she is receiving from the social workers, who visit her regularly in her house in Kule. The family has basic commodities, but some items like mosquito nets and soap are always scarce and she worries that there is never enough food in the house to properly feed the four fostered siblings. Nyadiet adds, “I try my best to provide clothes for the four children but also these are scarce sometimes.”

Ethiopia and neighbouring countries are hosting the South Sudanese refugees who have fled their country, since the conflict started in December 2013. Heavy fighting continues in South Sudan and therefore it is not known, when the over 200,000 South Sudanese refugees currently living in Gambella refugee camps can return home.

When asked about her future, Nyagua says: “I wish to find our parents or at least to hear that they are fine and safe.”

New Year, potable water- How we spent our Ethiopian New year holiday

By Simon Odong

Kule Refugee Camp, Gambella, September 11, 2014- While the Americans were commemorating the 13th anniversary of 9/11 attack  on the world trade centre, the Ethiopians celebrated their 2007 new year day, we were with the South Sudanese Refugees in Kule settlement camp turning swamp water into safe drinking (potable) water.

Kule Refugee camp, opened in May 2015 and it  is home to over 50,000 refugees who fled from South Sudan due to conflict. The recent rains in Gambella coupled with run-off from the high lands channelled through Baro River, have already caused widespread flooding in Lietchuor Refugee Camp and Itang Town. The same rains have rendered most roads in Kule and Tierkidi Refugee camps making them inaccessible by large trucks. This means, nearly half of the population in Kule cannot be served with potable water through water trucking.As a result, women and children had to walk between two to four Kilometres to the nearest water point within the camp, while others resorted to drinking surface water.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong A Refugee Woman Draws water from the Swamp on September 11 before completion of emergency water treatment installation

In Response to this, The UN Refugees Agency (UNHCR), have ordered an immediate repair of all roads starting with the overburdened spots. While the roads are being fixed by Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam with support from UNICEF, today installed an emergency water treatment kit (EmWat) to minimise the health risks of using surface water and to reduce the burden of women, boys and girls hauling water over long distances.

The EmWat kit is donated by UNICEF, installed by Oxfam with technical support from UNICEF and UNHCR. As a stop-gap measure it will provide safe drinking water to some 12,000 refugees residing in the hard to reach portion of the. Until a time when the in-camp roads are accessible by water trucks. The kit works on the principles of aided sedimentation, filtration and disinfection before distribution through a tap stand connected to a raised storage tank.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong EmWat kit sedimentation tank

The long term solution to this problem however, is the construction of a piped water scheme. With an estimated US$2.5Millions, UNICEF is supporting this sustainable solution through designing the system; construction of water reservoir tanks and technical support to partners implementing the other portion of the system. Once completed, between April and May 2015, it will serve some 120,000 persons including the surrounding host communities of the two camps (Kule and Tierkidi).

In the WASH sector, UNICEF is supporting the Gambella operation in emergency areas such as this by pre-positioning essential supplies and equipment; support to sector coordination; mitigating the effects of the displacement on the host communities; looking beyond the emergency and providing ad-hoc technical support to partners.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong Refugees accessing clean potable water from the EmWat Kit

One refugee woman had this to say after fetching water from the installed kit, “Yesterday was my first day to drink water from this swamp after I felt tired of walking to Zone C, why didn’t you people bring this thing (meaning Emwat Kit) yesterday?”  This was how we spent our Ethiopian New Year, thanks to Oxfam who is now running the kit.

Education in adversity: South Sudanese refugee children insist on their right to attend school

By Elissa Jobson

Child protection Kule Refugee camp  1 and 2
Crowd of around 100 children, some as young as 6 or 7 years of age, who have gathered outside the chicken-wire fence of the school compound in Kule refugee camp demand to be allowed onto the school’s premise 23, June 2014 Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

GAMBELLA, ETHIOPIA, 25 JUNE 2014 – “School is good for the boy and the girl,” sings ten-year old Nyanget Tohok, her voice, cutting through the midday humidity, rings out clean and clear. “SCHOOL IS GOOD FOR THE BOY AND THE GIRL,” chorus the crowd of around 100 children, some as young as 6 or 7 years of age, who have gathered outside the chicken-wire fence of the school compound in Kule refugee camp.

They have not come for lessons. They are not there to collect their schoolbooks. They are there to demand their right to an education. “We are singing for school,” says Nyanget. “We need to learn but there is no space.” The school only has room for 1,200 children but more than 6,000 students registered and are waiting to enrol when the space allows. The exiting places were allocated on a first come, first served basis.

“When we don’t come to school we cannot be happy. We have seen our friends coming to school but we are not given a chance to learn,” laments Majiok Yien, aged 9. This young boy wants to be an English teacher but his dream has been violently interrupted by the civil war raging in South Sudan, which forced him and his family to seek refuge in Ethiopia.

On land provided by UNHCR and the Ethiopian Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), four 6m x 4m classrooms have been built by Save the Children with vital support from UNICEF. The school operates two shifts: one in the morning from 8am to 12pm and a second from 1.30pm-5.30pm. The class sizes are huge – 150 children each – and the whole curriculum is being taught by just 10 teachers, all recruited from the refugee community.

Returning to normality

Education
South Sudan Refugee Students attend a class in a makeshift classroom 25, June 2014 Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

“School is important for the children. When they are in school they forget what they have seen in the war. School is the first priority to help remind them of normal life,” explains School Director Lam Chuoth Gach, himself an exile from South Sudan’s bloody conflict. The students have been through a terrible ordeal, he adds. They have seen people – for some their parents and siblings – killed directly in front of them. They remember the sounds of the bullets and the long, arduous journey to safety in Gambella. “When we started classes it was difficult to bring their attention to the teaching but now they are listening,” Mr Gach continues. “That is why are worried about the children who are not yet in school.”

Jael Shisanya, Education Adviser for Save the Children feels that the teachers are doing a good job under extremely difficult circumstances. “They are lesson planning and they have written a timetable but the challenge we have is that the numbers of students are overwhelming. We don’t have adequate space,” she says pointing to the four tents made of wooden poles and plastic sheeting that serve as classrooms. Early childhood education is taking place under a tree which doubles as a church on Sundays, Ms Shisanya says, but if classes are to continue during the imminent rainy season a more suitable location will have to be found. “Funding is an issue. We could do much more. We could build better structures. But we need more money for education,” she insists.

“The children are eager to learn and the community itself is yearning for school. ‘We can look for food but we can’t easily get education for our children,’ the parents tell me. They don’t want their children to forget what they have learnt,” Ms Shisanya says.

Adolescents not catered for

Education
14 year old Buya Gatbel. He is one of the lucky few who have secured a coveted place in a makeshift classroom in Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia, 25 June 2014 . ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

For the children themselves, education is a lifestyle, an essential part of their weekly routine. “I need to go to school. On Sunday I must go to church and on Monday I must go to school,” asserts 14 year old Buya Gatbel. He is one of the lucky few who have secured a coveted place. Buya is happy to be in school but he wishes that the situation was better. “There are no desks. The classroom is very small. We need pens, uniforms, bags and umbrellas for when it rains. There are no exercise books or text books and many children are outside. You need to build more schools, and build a library,” he says.

Currently the school is only teaching grades one to four. “I’m studying grade four but it is not really my grade,” Buya explains – in South Sudan he was in grade eight. His best friend, Changkuoth Chot, aged 18, is in the same boat. “I want to go to grade eight but it is better to be in grade four than to not be in school,” he says.

Ms Shisanya is particularly concerned about those adolescents that are not currently in education: “Teenagers are saying they are so depressed. There is no work.” There is no school.” Tezra Masini, Chief of the UNICEF Field Office in Gambella, is also worried. “Donors are more interested in providing education for younger children but it is protection issue for the older ones. If we don’t provide them with school they may go back to South Sudan to fight.”

Dech Khoat, age 19, bears these fears out. He joined the rebel White Army when the conflict began in December last year. “I’ve come for a rest from the fighting,” he says. In the future I will go back but if I can continue my education I will stay in the camp.”

Click here for latest update on South Sudan refugees status in Ethiopia.