By Simon J. Mone
The conflict in South Sudan that erupted after President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar fell apart has caused serious humanitarian crisis to over a million people in the World’s newest nation.
Thousands of people have been killed in the war which broke out in December, 2013.
Over 817,000 have been displaced with 270,000 fleeing to neighbouring Uganda, DRC, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia. 22,000 displaced civilians took refuge at the United Nations camp in Bentiu to avoid being killed.
Shelter, food, water and sanitation facilities cannot support the increasing number. It can only afford a litre of water for one person per day and 350 people share one toilet.
Disease outbreak is imminent within the internal displaced camps. Medecins Sans Frontieres are providing treatment to the sicke. This reminds me of many aspects of the humanitarian state that the LRA war caused to the people of northern Uganda.
It is 5:30pm and like in the other schools, students at St. Joseph’s College Layibi are preparing to have supper after which they go to class for evening studies. I pick up my basin to go and have a quick bath. As I pump the borehole, I look through the school fence and see women, men and children streaming in a long row towards Gulu town carrying with them luggage.
They try run away from abduction or being killed. While in Gulu town, many go to waiting hall of the bus and taxi parks and verandas in town. Even though soldiers are deployed around the school to keep guard of the students, the mood is vividly awful.
I carry my water and finish my bath, then take supper after which I proceed to class. At about 9:00pm, I return to St. Patrick house and put my head down to rest. At just past 12:00 midnight, sounds of barking dogs wakes students up. We rise to keep alert of what would come next. Looking through the windows, we see huge flames of villagers’ huts are being torched.
We sense real trouble brewing up. In the morning, the villagers return home only to find ashes of what were their homes the previous day.
The narrow escape came one Wednesday evening. It was during holiday period and senior four students stayed in school to try and catch up with the syllabus backlog of the previous year, interfered with by the war. Francis Obita, Gerald Okello and I went to the school farm and returned to school with cow peas.
We started cooking in the school kitchen as we conversed. About 20 minutes later, a group of men in civilian attire carrying guns and moving one behind the other appeared in our midst.
One of them spoke in Swahili. Being in the middle of conversation, nobody understood what the fellow said. So we turned attention to him.
“Wamito kolo me butu”, literary meaning that, we want mats to sleep on. At this point, we knew the time of truth had reached. For a moment we all kept silent looking at each other as we pondered the next move.
Immediately Francis got up and made a quick turn towards the student’s dining hall. Gerald and I followed as we sped off. One member of staff who was with us remained behind and he was taken. We came within a minute of abduction.
The writer is a civil engineer