“When the Antonovs came we had to run.”
Sitting under the shade of a tree, 20-year-old Gisma recounts her terrifying ordeal to me, fleeing Antonov bombings in her village of Kukur in Sudan’s Blue Nile State. “They bombed my home and my neighbor’s home. We had to leave right away. We took nothing with us except our livestock.” Gisma, her husband and only child, along with their parents and neighbors, then began their 7-day walk in search of safety.
Her daughter fell ill, but survived. She was lucky. “We saw many children die,” Gisma says.
Gisma’s story is frighteningly similar to so many others who fled across the border into South Sudan’s Upper Nile State: bombings of their home villages; a many days-long journey by foot; carrying little more than the clothes on their backs; witnessing sickness and death along the way.
I recently returned from South Sudan, where International Medical Corps has been providing care for some of the more than 100,000 refugees and returnees from Sudan. One year after South Sudan’s independence, hostilities in many areas in the north – the result of decades-old disputes over land, sovereignty, oil rights, race, and religion – continue to drive civilians out of their homes.
It is sobering to watch hundreds and hundreds of children - malnourished, weak coughing, and crying - file through our clinic. Their needs are immense.
And yet… as I walk through Gendrassa refugee camp amid the thousands of tents, I notice that the camp is teeming with children laughing and playing Frisbee, parents cooking and cleaning clothes with their families and neighbors, smiling and coping and rebuilding some sort of new life.
I remember Gisma’s words, reflecting on the past, the current and the someday:“There were a lot of people shooting guns in my village. It feels peaceful here. I don’t hear the guns anymore. When the war stops I hope to go home."