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Out of hell with a smile

The story of a boy who nearly became deprived of his childhood after being lost in the war of South Sudan.

Ramadan cries alone in a corner of the classroom where his family have been temporary accommodated. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran – UNICEF
Ramadan cries alone in a corner of the classroom where his family have been temporary accommodated. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran – UNICEF

Ramadan ElFaki is only five years old yet the impact of the fighting in South Sudan is clearly visible. “He cries very often, barely eats and is always alone,” says his worried father Mohammed.

During the fighting that broke in Juba on July 8, the boy got lost while fleeing with his parents and siblings. As the family fled their home in Jebel, one of the hardest hit areas, Ramadan lost track of his parents and followed the crowds of other displaced families seeking safety from bullets and shelling. He spent two weeks in a church, until someone recognized him and contacted his parents, who had settled in the UN camp site. His father set off on a long and dangerous walk to the city to rescue him. “I was beaten several times by soldiers,” Mohammed recalls showing a scar on his forehead.

The fight and separation has left Ramadan deeply distressed. “He hasn’t said a word since then,” Mohammed explains.

The toll on the family has also been severe. Another child, three year old Hissen, spent a week in the bush while rebel soldiers took care of him and later brought him to the UN camp. Hours before the fighting, Mohammed’s wife, Joyce Sunday, gave birth to triplets who all died as the family fled.

Ramadan plays with a blackboard donated by UNICEF. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran – UNICEF
Ramadan plays with a blackboard donated by UNICEF. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran – UNICEF

Mohammed, Joyce and their five children now live together with two other displaced families in a small classroom within the camp. It’s a temporary space that the community offered to the new arrivals, who have nothing left. “Our house is destroyed, so we won’t be able to go back anytime soon,” says Mohammed.

“Ramadan still needs time to recover,” say the psychological experts. “He needs to be continuously comforted by his family and surrounded by friends.” However, after several weeks, his first smiles give some hope.

Ramadan smiles for the first time playing with his brother. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran
Ramadan smiles for the first time playing with his brother. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran
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