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. Find out more about our innovative R4O programme.

“I have bad dreams about the war and the fighting. Sometimes I dream that I was shot
and killed too. When I wake up I have to cry…” Emma (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. 

War Child Holland provides psychosocial support in areas of armed conflict through its life skills intervention - the DEALS. The package comprises robust interventions designed to build the resilience of children (I DEAL), young people (BIG DEAL), and vulnerable women (SHE DEAL). Parents and caregivers can also participate in the CAREGIVER DEAL intervention. 

In the I DEAL intervention children aged 6 – 12 learn to express their feelings, cope with trauma and adversity, and solve problems and conflicts without resorting to violence. Creative group activities, games and discussions help build children’s confidence and self-esteem - helping them to believe in a better future.

War Child organises I DEAL sessions in primary schools. Head teacher Benjamin - a South Sudanese refugee himself - understands the issues children taking part in the programme have to deal with. “Children would sometimes sit in the classroom being very sad,” he explains. “When you would talk to a child they could just start crying. But because of the recreational activities of War Child Holland they feel released and their discipline has improved.”


“Before there were a lot of fights but this has been reduced - because the I DEAL sessions let children express what they have in their mind and what they have in their heart.”

Emma (12) takes part in I DEAL and enjoys the experience. “My English is improving, my confidence is growing and I learn about friendship,” she says.

Emma’s mother has also seen the positive change the sessions have on her daughter: “My daughter always talks about War Child,” she says. “I can see it changes her completely. It makes me happy that she is taught to be friendly, not to fight and to hate." 

Noah is 17 and lives with his mother and three siblings in the Ayilo refugee settlement in Adjumani. He takes part in the BIG DEAL sessions, where adolescents learn how to express their emotions, build relationships and develop leadership skills. And leadership skills are something Noah has a keen interest in.

“My dream is to become a leader someday,” he says. “When I was in South Sudan, I used to think a lot about how I could become a leader. I feel that I can lead anywhere. A community, a school, or even a country. But I did not know how to lead.”

Noah pursued this ambition and learned about different leadership styles. He now puts what he has learned into practice as a prefect at his school - where he is in charge of stopping fights and making sure that the school is tidy. He is also the group leaders at his BIG DEAL sessions - and is grateful for the opportunities to use his new skills.

 “Before, I did not play very often with my friends,” he explains. “But now we have learned new games and songs, which has brought more fun.”  

Uganda has one of the world's most compassionate refugee policies. Refugees have the same rights as Ugandans. They have freedom of movement, and the right to work. They are given a plot of land to build a home and grow crops on - giving them a chance to start a new life. But the high influx of refugees has brought problems too - in some districts refugees now outnumber locals and public services are overwhelmed.

To maintain the existing goodwill and enhance peaceful co-existence between the refugees and the host community, humanitarian organisations in Uganda work in close partnership with the government. Together they have agreed that 30 per cent of all humanitarian aid is directed to Ugandan host communities.  

Okot Johnson, deputy settlement commander from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), explains: “If for example ten water pumps are to be built, we agreed that three of them should be built for the local communities to benefit from. The same goes for newly built schools, roads and health centres.”

Local Ugandan farmer Lucas is someone who directly benefits from this agreement. He welcomed the refugees with open arms: “I have never seen them as a threat,” he says. “We cannot leave them to fend for themselves. They came here to find peace and I welcome them.” His wife adds: “We see the refugees as brothers and sisters.”

For their son Oliver it means he does not have to walk very far to school anymore. “They built a new one much closer to home! And I made new friends, one of them is from South Sudan. We play together and participate in the I DEAL. I really like the song ‘boom-chicka-boom’ we learned there!” 

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