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A teacher and survivor happy to help her community in South Sudan


A teacher and survivor happy to help her community in South Sudan

Sanna's journey to safety in South Sudan was traumatic, but after arrival she started thinking about other refugees in the UNHCR-run Gendraasa camp.
5 November 2012
Sanna tells her story and hopes for the future after months on the run.

GENDRASSA REFUGEE CAMP, South Sudan, November 5 (UNHCR) - Sanna, a big smile on her face, stepped off the bus after it pulled up at the reception centre in South Sudan's Gendrassa refugee camp. After six tough months on the run, she was relieved to have made it here.

Sanna still feels rheumatic pain after walking for weeks through rain and the flooded land with her whole village to escape the fighting in Sudan's Blue Nile state. The suffering of the most vulnerable on the journey is etched in her mind, including seeing her grandmother die from lack of food and potable water. "She's buried now. We made the grave and we buried her in that grave," the young woman recalled.

The 23-year-old's high spirits on reaching South Sudan's newest camp, after transportation by UNHCR from Jamam camp, some 70 kilometres away, soon started to wane because of the long wait on a hot day to get registered and allocated a tent and a plot of land. But once settled in, she started thinking about others in the UNHCR-run camp of almost 11,000 people.

"I'd be so happy to be able to help my community," said Sanna, who is a university-educated primary school teacher. With so many of the new arrivals children torn away from school, her skills are in great demand.

UNHCR puts a priority on ensuring that all refugee children get at least a primary education and by the end of the day, a non-governmental organization working with the refugee agency had offered her a teacher's job.

It helped a little bit to ease the pain, but the future remains uncertain and Sanna misses her home. "Being a refugee is so tiresome, carrying things, living in fear - nothing is good at all," she told UNHCR of life on the run.

Her suffering began earlier this year, when the fighting between forces in Blue Nile state reached her home area. The warplanes would attack day or night if they saw a flash of light on the ground or a fire burning. "If you wear something white you will be targeted as well," Sanna explained. "One of my cousins, Mohammed, was killed. He was blind and he was hit by bombs from the planes," she added.

The air raids left villagers traumatized and scared, especially the children. The villagers decided to flee for their lives, heading first to Baw, where they stayed for three months before renewed shelling forced them on the run again. The fighting seemed to follow the group and so they sought shelter across the border in Upper Nile state, where Jamam and Gendrassa are located.

"The women and children suffered the most from the lack of food," Sanna said, adding: "The women had to carry the belongings and take care of the children, take care of the family."

In Jamam, a place chosen by their chiefs, Sanna and her fellow villagers felt safer and they received help from UNHCR and other aid organizations. When numbers started to increase, and insufficient water was found underground to cover all needs, UNHCR launched an operation to relocate the refugees to a more suitable location - Gendrassa.

When UNHCR met Sanna and her extended family, they had just finished registering and were waiting for a tractor to take them to family tents. She had to wait again, but eventually it was her turn. The bulky luggage was loaded onto the tractor's trailer and Sanna followed on foot - two kilometres later she reached her tent, which she will share with her husband when he arrives from Jamam with their two cows.

Then it all started to catch up with her. Carrying a yellow plastic bag with belongings and heading towards her tent, an exhausted Sanna sat down and asked for water. She was hungry, thirsty and exhausted, but also grateful. "I am very happy. You have never let us down. You have assisted us so much. Thank you very much," she said.

But she harbours hopes of a return to her old life. "I hope there is peace soon so I can go back to my original home," she said. "My ambition was to complete my training and be somebody."

By Cecile Pouilly and Angie Brooker in Gendrassa Refugee Camp, South Sudan