At the end of January our worst fears were realised when the fighting which erupted in Juba on December 15th spread to Leer, Unity State. Leer is the base for our operations in South Sudan and is the home of the Emma Academy project. Our work there has included the refurbishment of Leer Primary School and construction of five classrooms plus a bore hole at the Mary John School.
Between the last days of January and early February, widespread destruction took place with the entire market area and hundreds of civilians' homes being burned to the ground. Devastatingly, the area's only hospital which has been run for the past 25 years by MSF was also ransacked and destroyed, depriving nearly 300,000 people in the surrounding area of a critical lifeline. Although precise information is difficult to obtain, we understand that although each of the town's schools has sustained some damage, our classrooms at Mary John School are currently still intact.
During this period the entire civilian population fled for their lives into the bush and some six weeks later, they are still too terrified to return to the town due to continued insecurity. A recent report by the UN states that Unity State is "the most heavily affected state in terns of displacement, with about a third of the population on the run". One of Gua Africa's key team members in South Sudan is among the many thousands of civilians seeking shelter in the bush outside Leer. Thankfully we have been able to maintain sporadic contact with his group via satellite phone so have been able to monitor his safety. However, with the rainy season approaching, the risk of disease and lack of access for humanitarian agencies makes their situation increasingly desperate.
Whilst our immediate thoughts and efforts are focussed on everyone's safety, Gua Africa's commitment to the long term future of South Sudan's youth remains undimmed. We believe more than ever that providing access to education for all will be a key factor in securing a lasting peace once the current conflict is resolved.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Amigo/MSF