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Displaced children bring to Pope’s attention their plight

Children narrated to Pope Francis chilling stories highlighting their daily struggles amid challenging conditions in the internally displaced persons (IDP) they live in.

Joseph Laat, a 16-year-old displaced in 2015 and currently among thousands of children in Bentiu IDP camp, said while meeting Pope Francis at Freedom Hall in Juba that he is worried of not fulfilling his future dreams due to lack of access to basic services in the camp.

I entered protection of civilian site in Bentiu at age of 8 and grew up there, my life in the camp is not pleasing and I am very worried about how my life, and lives of other children will be in the future,” said Laat on Saturday.

Laat was among a few IDPs chosen to interact closely with the visiting Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Moderator of Presbyterian church of Scotland Iain Greenshields.

He said displaced children survive on humanitarian assistance in the camp which of recent has been drastically reduced, due to shortage of international donor funding to humanitarian agencies.

“Throughout this year, my family, I and as well other displaced children have been able to survive because of humanitarian aid,” said Laat.

He appealed to political leaders to bring lasting peace, love, unity and prosperity to South Sudan.

When the civil conflict broke out in 2013 and 2016, millions of people fled to the United Nations camps for safety, which were later on transformed into protected camps for those who were fleeing the fighting.

The Protection of Civilian site in Juba currently hosts about 33,000 people.

The camp is overcrowded, and lacking the basic services such as food, safe sanitation, clean water, schools, and health services.

Johnson Juma Alex, 14, who got displaced to Malakal camp in 2014, said living conditions are extremely difficult due to overcrowding and lack of basic needs.

“Peace is good, we need peace so that we can go to Malakal town,” said Juma.

He decried shortage of teachers and poor learning environment.

“Many children do not go to school because there are not enough teachers in schools for all of us,” added Juma.

A combination of conflicts, flooding and early child marriages have forced out of school more than two million children, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Since fighting erupted in Africa’s youngest nation in 2013, 43 percent of primary and 93 percent of secondary school age children have been affected.

Adverse poverty has compounded the situation making the country have some of the worst education indicators in the world.

“Continue to teach us to be friends of Jesus and continue to speak to our people so we can all be together in peace,” said Rebecca Nyakor, 14 a resident of Juba protection camp.

 “I want to urge you to give special blessing for all the children of South Sudan so we can grow together in peace and love,” she added.

Pope Francis started his fifth visit to Africa on February 2nd in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

He arrived in South Sudan on February 3rd   accompanied by Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

The Pontiff completed his itinerary on Sunday with Holy mass.

The trip is Francis’s 40th abroad since he was elected the head of the Catholic Church in 2013.

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