Ayilo refugee settlement, Adjumani district, Uganda
November 2017

Assignment for War Child Holland

Filmed with and iPhone 6S

South Sudan’s civil war has entered its fifth year - and it is the nation’s children who are suffering most. Thousands of South Sudanese children have travelled in search of safety to Uganda - where War Child Holland has teamed up with War Child Canada and TPO to meet their urgent needs. 

“Together with my parents I fled from South Sudan to Uganda. When we ran I was very scared.
I remember seeing a lot of blood and dead bodies…” Steven (12)

South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation – but it has known little but armed conflict in its short history. The country has been mired in civil war since December 2013. The political conflict between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar has become a violent one. Tens of thousands of people have been killed as a result. 

The violence has seen a large flow of refugees seeking safety in neighbouring countries - more than two million South Sudanese have taken refuge in Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. Uganda currently hosts more than one million South Sudanese refugees - some 60 per cent of whom are children. 

Many of these child refugees travelled alone in search of safety - with nothing more than what possessions they could carry. Many of these children lost parents or siblings in the fighting - and they bear a heavy burden of stress and vulnerability.  

War Child Holland - with financial support from the European Union - has teamed up with War Child Canada and Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO) Uganda to meet the urgent needs of these child refugees. The three organisations have developed an innovative new programme to help them recover from psychological stress - we call it the R4O Approach. 

R4O – a holistic response to the refugee crisis which sees refugees recover from their psychological stress through specialised mental health services and legal aid support delivered by TPO and War Child Canada respectively. Where boys and girls learn to become more resilient via War Child Holland’s DEALS and TeamUp programmes. Interventions that together make children, youth and caregivers - from both refugee and host communities - ready to pursue education and livelihoods opportunities.

The R4O programme combines mental health and psychosocial support interventions with legal aid support for maximum impact. This approach is designed to enable child refugees build their resilience and enjoy improved social and emotional wellbeing.

The programme targets 7,000 individuals, with a focus on vulnerable boys and girls from both the refugee population and the host community. Children with specific and more severe issues can also follow a referral pathway for specialised support.

War Child Holland organises structured recreational activities as part of our TeamUp and DEALS programmes. These activities provide children with emotional support and a much-needed sense of stability. 

TPO contributes screening activities to identify children who require specialised mental health support - such as cognitive behavioural therapy. TPO also treats mental health problems directly in the community. War Child Canada provides legal protection for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and child abuse. 

These activities are combined for maximum impact. Young girls who have experienced sexual violence can access legal aid at War Child Canada’s help desks - and at the same time benefit from counselling provided by TPO. 

"Working together and bringing different expertise together fastens the process of improving the life of the affected people," explains War Child Canada project manager Rosemary Imagoro.


Steven is one of the nearly one million refugees who fled from South Sudan to Uganda. In 2014, together with his parents and siblings, he arrived in Ayilo refugee settlement in northern Uganda’s Adjumani district.

Ayilo is a place where Steven is happy. A place where he feels safe, where he can play and go to school. He takes part in War Child Holland’s I DEAL sessions where children learn to express their feelings, cope with trauma and adversity, and solve problems and conflicts without resorting to violence.

After three years Steven says he no longer thinks about South Sudan. But memories of people being killed, bloodshed and war remain. Going back is not an option. “I don’t want to go back to South Sudan,” he says. 

“I am happy here. I can go to school and study; there is enough food and I can play football with my friends!” 

And like many other children his age around the world, he loves football. He is a proud supporter of his favourite team Manchester United. 

We were curious and wanted to know what Steven’s life in Ayilo is like. That’s why we gave him a camera and asked two things of him - photograph what makes you happy and photograph what makes you sad. 

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