It’s a cloudy day in a dusty little village in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatorial state and the sun is going down over the horizon.
Six-year-old Eunice and her friends have gathered in the only place in the village where children can come together to play and learn: the local day centre set up by Plan International South Sudan.
At the centre, three little children lie resting. One of them is asleep. Her friends say she is tired from playing and running around with all the toys and games.
“I like it here,” says Eunice. “My friends like it here too. We play on the roundabout and the swings.”
Children can act like children
Plan International is setting up day centres across South Sudan to provide a safe environment in which children affected by the country’s conflict and food crisis can learn and play.
Singing songs is Eunice’s favourite part. “There’s a song we sing called the ‘Sim-sim, sim-sim” song which everyone really loves,” she says. “It isn’t the same when we don’t sing it.”
Children often have grown-up duties
Mary is just seven years old but for several hours every day, she’s the main caregiver for her two-year-old brother Rokani.
During the mornings, she stays at home while her parents go to work. Despite her young age, it’s her job to make her little brother porridge and keep him entertained.
“I barely find time to play when we’re at home because my brother never wants to be left on his own,” she says.
In the afternoons, though, Mary gets some respite by going to the day centre where her friends help her take care of her brother.
By setting up child-friendly spaces in some of the worst-affected areas of the country, Plan International is making sure these children find time to act like children while continuing to learn.
Girls’ education is suffering
Mary has never received any formal education so the centre she attends is the only school she has ever known.
We spend most of the day at home waiting for this place to open.
Around 76% of girls in South Sudan are missing out primary education as the journey to school is often treacherous, while others simply can’t afford the fees amid the country’s economic collapse. Girls especially are frequently kept out of school to do housework or look after their siblings.
At the day centres, children can learn basic numeracy and hygiene skills from volunteer mentors equipped with teaching aids. They also play games, draw and sing - gaining confidence from spending time with peers from their community.
Mary’s father, Lino, who supplies the centre with water fetched from a borehole two kilometres away, is pleased to see his daughter get the chance to learn and play with her friends:
“This is the only place where our children can spend time with each other in safety,” he says. “The alternative is for them to play together in the bushes but there they can be at risk from snakes - and worse.”
The village elders say the centre is cherished by the entire community.
“We spend most of the day at home waiting for this place to open.” says Eunice.
Show your support
Help us to set up child-friendly places and provide humanitarian aid to the children and families of South Sudan.
Donate to the East Africa Food Crisis Appeal