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.

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, Save the Children and UNICEF Netherlands have joined forces to develop TeamUp - a programme to meet the urgent needs of refugee children. TeamUp is designed to reduce the stress refugee children experience as a result of war, their difficult journeys to safety and life in a new country.  

TeamUp was initially rolled out in asylum seeker centres in the Netherlands. Now the programme has been launched in Uganda as part of the R4O intervention.

TeamUp provides refugee children and children from the local community with structured recreational activities such as sports, games and movement exercises. 

War Child Holland’s project officer Vivian Ace explains: “These activities… enable the children to come to a normal situation. We hope that they will open up and be able to interact freely, socialise and return to normal life." 

Children receive social emotional support, learn to make new friends and regain their trust in adults.

They engage in activities where they can have fun, relax and release stress. These activities give them something to look forward to - every week at a fixed time. Activities are executed by trained professionals who are able to identify those children in need of specialised care and attention and refer them to TPO and War Child Canada as needed. 

The structure of TeamUp motivates children to help each other and work together. And that is important, according to Vivian. “Knowing that you are not alone but instead work together as a group to achieve the greater goal,” she says.

The results of this pilot are promising, according to the teachers. Children from different cultural backgrounds play together, their school results improve and dropout rates decline. Alice, who works as a teacher at Alere Primary School explains: “Some children don't come to school. But when they see their friends playing they have an interest to come to school and they attend classes… This reduces the problems for teachers.”

Head teacher Akomi Emrin Tako Andiason continues: “TeamUp made a very big change. In the past, in this school children were fighting every 10 to 15 minutes. But that doesn’t happen anymore. I really appreciate their work.”

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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