“In South Sudan, not a single day passes without shooting. And that bullet is not fired into an empty space, it hits somebody – it hits a person.”, starts his story Riek, a local field worker of Magna Children at Risk working in refugee camp in Juba.
Riek vaccinates hundreds of children and women every day. “I like my job, because we are working for our people and what we are doing is extremely important.” Riek was born in a small village in the Unity state in 1990, in one of the regions where violence and riots broke out in December 2013 and have not stopped ever since. Riek has spent most of his life in refugee camps in Kenya and Uganda. “I went there, because I wanted to study and there were no schools in my hometown. I also didn´t felt safe at home – during the Sudan conflict, house inspections were often made and their purpose was to find young boys. My father gave seven cows to protect me and my brother, because he wanted us to be at home – at least for some time.” Riek was able to finish his secondary education in refugee camps in Kenya and Uganda and he decided to go back to his native land as many other South Sudanese people in 2011, after achieving independence. He found a temporary work in the internet cafe in Juba and decided to save some money for education.
When the conflict broke out in December 2013, Riek was in town. “Everything happened so fast and unexpectedly, we were scared to death and we didn’t know what to do or where to run. We knew there is a UN base in Juba somewhere, but at the beginning we had no idea we could find a protection there. When you don’t have a weapon, your are finished. I even wanted to go to barracks to survive. Yes, that’s how I ended up thinking…Then I just started to run, following others. We were lucky to have reached the UN base.” UN bases provided shelter for thousands of people, saving their lives and protecting from genocide.
Camp: the only chance to survive. “Life in the camp was extremely difficult at the beginning. We were getting minimum amount of food and were sleeping on the bare floor. It took some time until things started to work somehow. This place is the only chance for me to survive now. It may seem that life in the city – life in Juba is back to normal again, but the truth is that people there are being attacked. Even though I am dreaming about coming home, I can’t do that because of safety reasons.” Riek is living with his brother in a tent that they got from the UN. “We are lucky, because there is just the two of us. Two families have to often share just one tent and then you can see 8-9 people sleeping in it.” The tent looks clean, but it is extremely hot in there. There is one mattress, some dishes, luggage and one small blanket used by Riek and his brother during the rains. “At least we have an access to water, food and shelter. We are quite safe in here. But life here is not easy. For example, we are facing a big problem now – we don’t have enough water. People are queuing for hours to fill their jerry can and there is often not enough water for everyone.” Riek’s brother does not work, so he usually has to bring the water. “Sometimes he comes with nothing after hours of waiting… There were a lot of women with their children repeating ‘my kid, my kid’ and you will allow them go first. Places, where many people live in a small area are a birthplace of communicable diseases.”
“Hygiene here is really terrible. People are not showering for 2 or 3 days, food is often not cooked properly and has to be eaten raw. You cannot even clean your dishes properly.” More than 117 people died as a result of acute diarrhea since the beginning of the year in refugee camp in Juba.
“When MAGNA came to the camp, we were dealing with measles break out at that time. Thanks to MAGNA, everything was under control after two weeks of intervention. If MAGNA was not there, many children would die.” From that moment on, no cases of preventive vaccination have occurred in camps. “There are not even cases of abscess after vaccination (suppuration caused by incision). As vaccinators, we went through training to learn how to avoid them during vaccination. We have learnt which length of a needle to use and what angle of incision is the best depending on the infection.”
Riek thinks it is a gift that he can cooperate with Magna Children at Risk. He says that “the main function of most of the people here is just to exist, without the meaning of life and doing nothing at all during the whole day.” After all, the camp is the only place for them to live due to the instability that continues ruling the country. “God is the only one who knows the way,” Riek concludes his story. “When there is peace again one day, I would like to study Public Health, find a good job and get married.”