I am back after more than 2 weeks in Juba, the momentary capital of South Sudan, since Ramciel has lately been preferred to this old town that after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement has been transformed into a metropolis.
Juba has now paved roads, permanent buildings with yellow-earth walls, an university named after its name, a mausoleum erected to the memory of John Garang de Mabior, and thousands of people who come from all over
Sudan, from all over Africa, from all over the world. Returnees from Khartoum,
IDPs escaping the recent clashes in Jonglei State, Somalis in their black-red
squared tunic, Kenyans with their nose for business, Japanese experts in
engineering, and all kind of muzungu (or
khawadja, as the white foreigners are
called here). During my stay I met:
- a (long-winded) American, who came to Juba on a honey moon in 1985 and decided to construct the guest-house where I was staying, as a 25th anniversary wedding gift to his wife;
- a Canadian, who on Wednesday 14th was working for a tea-company and on Friday 16th signed his resignation letter;
- an Italian, who was a former rock band-lead-singer and former-anthropologist, before joining CESVI, an NGO that together with Ibis is member of the partnership alliance 2015.
But my best encounters occurred at Ibis-Juba office, since I had the luck to meet Rose, Charles and Denis, the freshly appointed staff in charge of implementing a new project that aims at getting the street-children of
Juba off the streets.
In 2008 it has been estimated that 1200 children were living along the streets of
Juba. Due to their mobile nature, it’s very difficult to
establish their exact number, but it’s almost undoubted that their number has
increased as has increased Juba population.
The reason why I was sent to
Juba was to assist my three
colleagues in conducting a baseline survey that aimed at collecting quantitative
and qualitative data about the condition of children living in street
situation. In the course of these two weeks, we selected the area of
intervention of the city, we created the questionnaires to be used for
interviewing the children, we trained 8 social workers to be sent to the
streets and we finally analyzed the data we gathered.
We discovered that in Juba there are two kinds of street children, ‘children on the street’ and ‘children of the street’, to use UNICEF’s words: the firsts spend most of their time on the street but return home on a regular basis while the seconds live entirely in the streets without any adult supervision or care.
The children of the street of
Juba are the most vulnerable and
therefore Ibis’ priority. Thanks to the survey we determined that they have
chosen the streets because of poverty (the majority of the interviewees’
parents are demobilized soldiers not integrated yet in the new South-Sudanese
society), domestic violence (one was harassed with a gun by his mother when he
asked why his sister was married at such a young age), lack of parental care
(most of them are orphans). Unfortunately what they found in the streets is not
so much different from what they left behind. Since they don’t have a shelter they
just sleep in the markets where are beaten by the elderly boys, abused by the
police officers, and especially in the case of the young girls, raped at night and
forced to join the sex industry.
Despite the urban despair they live in, the street kids of
are aware that their permanence in the street is temporary (although some have
already lived there for 10 years) and they are certain that a bright future is
at the corner. Most of them want to go back to school, go back to their family “to help my mother and the nation”, work hard “to
make money and help children like me”
I and my team were very passionate about the street kids project from the very beginning. And from the very beginning, we got along very well. Although we have just met and worked together from such a short time, we felt like old colleagues who have already old daily habits: our favourite restaurant to eat our favourite food (which is always korofo (greens) that not only taste good but are also believed to be malaria-free), our afternoon strategy to defeat the heat (since our office is a prefabricated little house that gets veeery hot particularly from 2 to 3 pm), our internal jokes.
But because my colleagues were “very concerned about my loneliness”, we also spent time together after work and went for beers to a place close to the White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the mythical Nile, that passes trough Juba without being noticed, since you don’t feel the presence of water in such a dry city.
I think we transmitted such a friendly team spirit to all the people we met and worked with during these two weeks, especially our 8 social workers, seconded from the Ministry of Social Development and the CBO Street Children Aid, who were amazingly able to interview 155 children in 3 days. We were so grateful to these 8 heroes that, under Peter suggested, we invited them for dinner and gave them Ibis T-shirt as souvenir (I got one too!) .
And we forgot how tired we were before a good plate of chicken-and-fries, chats and laughs.