Mary's night of fear turns to peace | A child’s story from South Sudan to Ugandan refugee camp


The sound of the guns pierced through the pitch-black quiet of the South Sudanese night. Mary wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but she was terrified. South Sudan’s conflict had arrived in her village and the rebels were taking over. Screams, shots, and people running in all directions interrupted the eight-year-old girl’s sleep. It was chaos. As the rebels made their way through the village, killing everyone they came across, Mary and her family managed to flee, leaving all of their belongings behind. This is her story.

By Mary, 11, South Sudanese refugee in Uganda (as told to Stefanie Glinski, Field Content Manager, World Vision UK)

“My name is Mary and I came to Uganda when I was eight years old.

I now live in a refugee settlement and I go to school in the settlement too. In South Sudan, I was the first in my class; I was a very good student. I enjoy school here in Uganda too, but it was difficult at first, because all classes are in English. None of my old friends were here.

My father has died, but I came here with my mother and my brother and two sisters.

I remember coming here, but I don’t like to remember. People in my country were running from the war.

During the war, one side of my town wasn’t able to escape the rebels.But the other side, the side I lived on, managed to just get away.

We were in our house and the pastor came by and said we immediately needed to leave. We tried to go, but we suddenly heard gunshots. I was terrified. The rebels killed many. We were still hiding in the house and soldiers approached. They were fighting the rebels loudly. I didn’t know what would happen to us.

Somehow, my family escaped. We ran and ran and then stayed the night at the river nearby, not knowing if we would survive. The next morning we left. We walked for seven days. We ate only fish during that time. I was scared. My uncle went back to the village and I was scared for him. I haven’t seen him again since.

I don’t want to think about the war, I want to forget this time.”

Hope for the future

Mary and her family now live in a settlement for refugees in Uganda. The area is purpose-built to support the families and children uprooted by extreme violence. In this temporary village of people flung together by violent circumstances, in a foreign land, ashop, school, and semi-permanent homes give the community a semblance of the stability and safety that they need; but of course it takes some adjustment.

"I go to the government school and I attend World Vision’s programme after school.” Mary told us.“My classes are in English, but I don’t understand all of it. Before I went to the school, I attended a World Vision school for one year. It was a school for refugees and they helped us get to know our new home.”

There are more than 7,000 children like Mary in her settlement. We've set up Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) for them to learn, play, make friends and make sense of their situation. The CFS welcome pre-schoolers in the morning, and the older children attend after school. The refugees from South Sudan are from many different people who’ve all had different experiences of the violence at home. One key part of healing for the children - and for their futures - is peacebuilding. We're running sessions in the CFS where children can learn how to solve conflicts and to understand and respect each others' differences.

"When someone misbehaves, the caregiver takes care of them and explains why it’s important to be nice to each other. They advise us and counsel us. I can tell my caregivers about my problems and when something is wrong and they will listen to me.

"My favourite part about the CFS are the swings. I like playing with my friends, it’s so much fun and we laugh a lot. I have never had games like this before. There are so many children from South Sudan and we have classes, play games and draw.

"If people go back to South Sudan one day, I would maybe go too, but I am not sure. I am afraid that the war will start again if everyone goes back. I’m not afraid here [in Uganda] and I can be happy. I want to study hard so that I can help my family one day.

"For me peace means being baptised. Peace is about God."

Carve a Heart for Mary

No child should live in fear. Last Halloween people all around the UK showed their support for children in the world’s hardest places, turning one night of fear into a night of hope. They chose to Carve a Heart in their pumpkins as a symbol of hope, light and love, and texted HEART to 70060 to donate £3* to help a child like Mary.

We’re doing it again this year – and you can too. We’ve got creative ideas for your pumpkin carving and other simple ways to support children, like Mary, living in fear. And we’ll be awarding prizes for the most creative heart, so be sure to share it using #carveaheart on Twitter or Instagram.See your entry uploaded to our gallery and vote for your favourites.

*This is a charity donation service for World Vision. Texts cost £3 plus your standard network rate message. World Vision will receive 100% of your donation. If you have a question about your payment call 0203 282 7863. If you would prefer we didn’t contact you again in future, text NOCOMMS WORLD VISION to 70060. Charity no England and Wales (no 285908).

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