#10YearChallenge of a South Sudanese refugee in Kenya

#10YearChallenge has gone viral as people make comparisons of themselves now and 10 years ago. Elizabeth, a South Sudanese refugee living in Dadaab refugee camp, in north-eastern Kenya, recalls living a simple life as the last born in her family of 5, before the war forced them out of their country. She narrates her story to UNHCR’s Mohamed Aden Maalim.

I was 13 years old when war broke out in our peaceful village in 2009. I was deeply asleep when at midnight, we were attacked by our neighboring clan, over alleged cattle rustling. Our houses were burnt down and all our cattle taken away. In the midst of the fighting, I watched as my father was killed.

We ran in different directions and I got separated from my family. I ended up in the local church which gave us safety. We were approximately 100 people, all from the same village. We stayed inside the church until morning when we left the safe haven for fear of further attacks. It took us three days to reach Yuai, which is approximately 70 kilometers from Pieri, our hometown. Both are small towns in Jonglei state of South Sudan.

From there, we made our way into Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, where the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the Government of Kenya received us and gave us refugee status. We stayed at a church  compound in Nairobi for nearly two years, amidst many problems, before relocating to Dadaab.

In 2011, together with my cousin,Wang Malual,  we arrived in Dadaab refugee camps, with the hopes of finding a better life for ourselves. Life in the refugee camp was not easy but different from that in Nairobi. At least here in Dadaab we got free food, free health care, shelter, water and a great chance to study.

I immediately enrolled in primary school where I started in class 5. I finished my primary education in 2012 and secondary education in 2017. As soon as I finished my exams, I was recruited by UNHCR as an interpreter in former Ifo2 refugee camp, until it was closed down in May 2018.

I still do not know about the whereabouts of my mum, Rebecca Nyayin, and my two siblings, Sarah and Abraham. Over the years, I have called members of my village, trying to find them but without success. I will not stop until I know whether they are dead or alive.

Being a girl and without parents, I lived with distant relatives and claim uncles who tried to marry me off in order to make some money. I kept changing houses in order to escape early marriage.

I was lucky to get a fully paid scholarship by DAFI for my bachelor’s degree in Economics and Statistics, at the University of Nairobi. My teachers and classmates are very friendly and I enjoy all the lessons.

I hope that I will one day reunite with my mother and my siblings. Nobody wants to live as a refugee and I pray for peace in the world and most importantly, in my home country, South Sudan.

In the next #10YearChallenge, I hope to be a professional woman, fighting against poverty back at home.