For children affected by conflict and disaster, back-to-school season means getting back to basics: making friends, feeling safe.
See how 15-year-old Deng in South Sudan found friendship and safety … and is able to keep his dreams alive.
For me, back-to-school season has always been a bit of a nightmare.
Tension builds in July when the back-to-school supplies begin their blockade of the supermarket aisles.
I know the kids need these supplies. My sister is a teacher. She always has to supplement her classroom with necessities, paying from her own pocket.
It’s just the variety that confounds me.
Glue or glue sticks? Lead or mechanical pencils?
The thickness of binders—is 1 inch too thin? So many colors.
And college- versus wide-ruled paper has always thrown me for a loop.
But this year is different. This year, I met Deng.
Deng Maleuth is a 15-year-old boy in South Sudan. He lives in Warrap State, one of the places where World Vision works with people who have run from the conflict. In South Sudan, 1.5 million people have been displaced by the current round of violence.
When fighting came to his village, Deng and thousands of others fled for safety. “I walked from Unity State in February 2014,” he told me. “It took so many days—three months.”
When he arrived in Warrap State, life was very challenging. “There was no power and no food,” he says.
And worst of all—there was no family.
Everyone in Deng’s family had been killed in the conflict: his father, mother, brothers, and sisters.
He was alone.
World Vision went to work, providing food and installing water systems so people could drink clean water, wash clothes, and bathe.
For hundreds of children who had no immediate family left, World Vision found relatives with whom they could stay. Deng found an auntie.
The children had nothing to do, so World Vision started a Child-Friendly Space where they could continue informal education, play, and learn to get along with one another. World Vision trained community members to run the Child-Friendly Space, and after four months, they handed the project over to the community.
“The children play soccer and jump rope,” says Dominic Deng, 35, a community leader. “They learn how they should love themselves. When they love themselves, there will be no war among them. There are many tribes here. But with Child-Friendly Spaces, there is no discrimination.”
Deng Maleuth is part of a boys’ soccer team, made up of children whom conflict has forced together. It works, he says. “We play together. We love ourselves and we love one another,” says Deng.
The Child-Friendly Space is a spot of ordinary in a life of extraordinary hardship, especially for orphans like Deng.
It’s a place where dreams diminished by conflict stay alive—dreams like Deng’s, to become a doctor someday.
It’s a place that helps restore a child’s basic needs.
“When I came, I had no friends,” he says. “Now I feel safe. World Vision has made me feel safe.”
This year, friendship and safety are at the top of my list as I sort through school supplies in the back-to-school aisle.
For when it comes right down to it, making good friends in a safe place to learn is far more important than the color of a binder or whether notebook paper is wide-ruled or college-ruled.
That’s what Deng taught me.
Listen to Kari talk about South Sudan and view compelling images in our World Vision magazine feature “South Sudan’s Tattered Dreams.”
Join us in providing food, water, and safe places to learn and play for children displaced by conflict in South Sudan. Make a one-time donation today.