South Sudan: World Refugee Day on June 20- Supporting the people of South Sudan

AAR Japan currently supports Syrian refugees in Turkey, Afghan refugees in Pakistan and South Sudanese refugees in Kenya. AAR Japan’s Ryo KAKUTANI, who was stationed in South Sudan for four years until 2013, reports on its assistance to South Sudanese refugees.

Thrust into a civil war just two years after independence

“I deeply regret that I have to be here today,” were my first words when I spoke in July 2014 at the opening ceremony of a school that was built by AAR Japan inside Kakuma Refugee Camp.

Since 2006, AAR Japan has carried out projects – setting up wells and water supply facilities and offering hygiene and sanitation education – in Kapoeta in the Eastern Equatoria State of South Sudan (southern Sudan at the time), near the border with Kenya. South Sudan successfully gained independence from Sudan in 2011, but a civil war broke out again in December 2013, displacing some two million people, or about one fifth of the population. Approximately 500,000 citizens fled to neighboring Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan and Kenya as refugees. The school AAR Japan set up inside Kakuma Refugee Camp was designed for children who had escaped from the conflict in South Sudan.
Family who managed to reach the refugee camp being overwhelmed by intense heat and fatigue (Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, February 4th, 2014)

Regrets difficult to contain

I knew that common courtesy called for me to express words of joy at a school opening ceremony, such as “it is my great pleasure to be able to support education for children.”  But that was difficult for me, having lived with and assisted the people of South Sudan for four years until 2013 when the civil war broke out. The people of South Sudan, who earned independence after a long struggle and were looking forward to building a new country, now had to fight each other and flee their homes to Kenya as refugees. I felt extreme regret as I watched this reality unfold on the ground.

Ryo KAKUTANI (right) and refugee children pose for a photo in front of the school built by AAR Japan inside the refugee camp. (May 8th, 2014)

Life goes on as usual in Kapoeta

Fortunately, however, Kapoeta in Eastern Equatoria State, where AAR Japan has conducted its activities, was untouched by the conflict. All of AAR Japan’s staff, including South Sudanese, were safe. It may appear to outsiders that the people in South Sudan are consumed by battles day in and day out, but that does not mean fighting goes on every day in all parts of the country. In fact, markets open every day in Kapoeta, as they did during the time I was stationed there. Women come from the villages to sell firewood as well as maize, okra and other foods, while Kenyan merchants display clothes, pots and pans and other daily utensils brought from home. Life here goes on in the same way as before the civil war. AAR Japan’s South Sudan Office moved its base for Japanese staff to Nairobi, Kenya after the eruption of the civil war in December 2013. The South Sudan Office has since continued giving assistance to people in South Sudan, through exchanging more than 30 emails and phone calls with local staff every day to deliver safe water to the affected area. We need to provide assistance in stable areas, such as Kapoeta, where possible.

Ryo KAKUTANI with children of the village where AAR Japan constructed a well (Kapoeta, South Sudan, March 8th, 2013).

Nurturing budding peace

Looking at the situation on the ground for international assistance, there is a tendency to put a higher emphasis on locations experiencing fierce fighting or areas where there are a large number of refugees. It is certainly of vital importance to provide people who fled their villages with nothing but the clothes on their backs with a safe shelter from bullets, rain and winds, as well as with food and medical supplies. On the other hand, there are regions like Kapoeta where - although untouched by fighting - many children die of diarrhea and other causes before their fifth birthday because they have no access to safe drinking water and medical supplies. Infrastructure building in these areas, I believe, eventually will lead to regional stability and prevent further conflicts. We cannot abandon people in relatively stable conditions who tend to be forgotten by the media. We will keep up our relief efforts by supporting the people of South Sudan.

Please click here for online donation through Paypal
Please click here for online donation via credit card and through convenience stores. (in Japanese)

Donating at the Japan Post Office
Account Number: 00100-9-600
Account Name: Nanmin wo Tasukerukai (難民を助ける会)
Please write down “Nepal” and specify if you need a receipt.

Latest news is available through Twitter and our newsletters.
AAR Account:(@aarjapan) http://twitter.com/aarjapan
AAR Free Email Newsletters: Click here for registration. (only in Japanese)

Ryo KAKUTANI, AAR Japan Tokyo Headquarters Office 
KAKUTANI has worked at the Kapoeta Office in southern Sudan (currently the Republic of South Sudan) since April 2010.  After graduating from university, he worked for two and a half years as a staff member for Japanese diplomatic missions abroad.  KAKUTANI was stationed at AAR Japan’s Tajikistan Office from November 2007 to March 2010.  He is originally from Hyogo Prefecture. (profile as of the date of the article).

Japanese-English translation by Ms. Rie Watanabe 
English editing by Ms. Fiona Chan

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.