Children of the Second-City

September 4, 2017

Location: Protection of Civilians site, Bentiu, South Sudan

Shoot date: 28 April – 8 June 2017

Photo credits: Phil Hatcher-Moore — UNICEF

As South Sudan marks its sixth anniversary of independence, violence in the world’s youngest country continues to force millions to flee for their lives. Many have escaped to neighboring countries as refugees, but more than 200,000 are living in UN displacement camps knows as protection of civilians sites. The largest of these is in Bentiu, Unity State and became the second largest settlement of people in the country outside of the capital Juba.
The Protection of Civilians site in Bentiu is home to around 120,000 people, effectively making it South Sudan’s second city after the capital, Juba. Just over 60% of the population is under 18 years old.
With a fluid security situation that shifts with the conflict, the camp sees new arrivals every week. Latjor Mayal (12) walked for an entire day with family members, carrying belongings in a traditional baby basket, to reach the camp from his village.
People live in houses made from sticks, plastic sheeting, and as lives in the camp become more permanent, so do their homes, with daub solidifying the wattle of the first structures.
People live in cramped conditions in the camp, with many people sharing the same room which is their entire living space. Nyakuma Chol (7) [left] and Nyeyang Chol (4) [right] eat porridge made from sorghum in the room they share with several members of their extended family. Sorghum, distributed by the World Food Programme, is a major part of people’s diet.
New babies are born into the camp every day. Clinics such as this one, see over 100 births a month, and provide mothers with a safe, clean environment in which to give birth. South Sudan has some of the worst indicators for maternal mortality in the world, exacerbated by poor access to health care due to the conflict. Children born in the camp receive vaccinations, as well as birth notification papers, which many in South Sudan do not possess.
Malnutrition rates are high countrywide. In this UNICEF supported clinic, Angelina Nyakan (right) feeds her seven month old daughter, Nyamer, with ready-to-use therapeutic food as she is treated as an outpatient for severe acute malnutrition. Nyamer will have several weekly follow-ups until she is better.
Children take on many responsibilities in the camp, such as collecting firewood like these two girls.
UNICEF and partners provide safe, clean drinking water to the entire population of the POC. Mostly women and children are responsible for collecting water from the water points distributed in each section of the camp.
A girl washes her younger siblings in the remains of an old suitcase outside her family’s compound in the camp.
Roles in the camp reflect those outside, and it is the women and girls that are responsible for washing clothes, cooking, and cleaning. A group of girls gather around a lake from which they source water, preferring the abundance of untreated water for cleaning, and using clean, tap water for drinking and cooking.
There is little waste in the camp, and many objects take on new lives. A group of enterprising young men have sourced old truck tires, which they burn to remove the metal beading and to make them more pliable, before making them into sandals
Opposite the market, they have set up a small workshop making the sandals, and selling them. Other stalls offer bracelets made from brass bullet casings, as well as groceries.
Aid distributions cater for the population’s basic needs, but many people, including children, work in the informal sector to allow them to provide more for their families. Here, a boy works shining shoes in the market.
The PoC has eight primary schools, offering free education to the camp’s children, and around 33,000 children are enrolled. At morning assembly, children sing the South Sudanese national anthem.
To cope with the demand for schooling, most schools rotate between those who come in the morning, and those who come in the afternoon.
In such a densely populated area, Child Friendly Spaces (like this one run by UNICEF partner Women Vision) provide children with the opportunity to play, socialise, and are a vital psycho-social tool to help with the trauma that many have experienced during the conflict.
Children also reclaim whatever space they can for play. An improvised version of “swing-ball” has caught on throughout the camp, played under trees, and on any vertical post that they can find, including these old fence posts built for supporting barbed wire.
Another game that children have adopted is born out of some of the tension in the camp, and the violence that children have witnessed outside. Toy spears and arrows see groups of children chases each other through the camp
In early May, two rival groups in the camp pitted themselves against each other with machetes and spears. United Nations police intervened for several days running, and children watched the scene from a distance.
A series of peace deals and cease-fires have not managed to quell the fighting in South Sudan, and insecurity is still widespread throughout the country. There seems to be no sign of the conflict abating soon, and thus South Sudan’s second city looks set to endure.