A Childhood Stolen

Emmanuel is sixteen and the only parent to his sisters

May 11, 2016

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© UNHCR/Colin Delfosse

Imagine it’s Christmastime. Gunshots suddenly shatter a time of peace and joy. Your heart is racing. Bullets pierce through your home. You take your sisters by the hands and start to run. You don’t know where – just to a place that is safe and hidden from danger.

Except you can’t hide. You can’t shield your eyes from seeing loved ones slaughtered and your home torched. You survive, but this nightmare burns itself into your memory forever.

That was the nightmare Emmanuel lived through – only 16 years old, his childhood was stolen that Christmas day.

“I can feel like crying, but as I’m a man I cannot cry,” Emmanuel firmly says.

His strength comes from a deep sense of responsibility. This remarkable young man has stepped up to parent his six younger sisters after his mother was killed when gunmen stormed his village in South Sudan last Christmas.

Emmanuel fled with his sisters to the Democratic Republic of Congo while his father stayed behind. Now the oldest male in the family, Emmanuel had to grow up quickly for the sake of his sisters and their survival.

This young man speaks stoically of horrors no one should witness:

“They were looting of people’s properties, killing, raping, burning of houses, all these I witnessed with my eyes,” Emmanuel recalls.

Nearly 20,000 people have fled their homes in South Sudan. A new rebellion has forced Sudanese refugees to cross borders to find safety and peace. Yet the risk remains especially grave for children who make the journey alone.

Emmanuel knows of boys back home who were abducted and forced to become soldiers. His sister, Victoria, knows all too well the fate of girls who fall into abusive hands.

“These guys in the bush, they came arresting girls going with them in the bush. And if they arrest you, you go there cooking for them, they turn [you] as their wife, and if you refuse to do such, they shoot you dead,” Victoria says.

In Dungu, UNHCR and Congolese authorities are registering new refugees who trickle in every day. Entire families arriving at a time of great need, and USA for UNHCR helps meet their critical needs through the generosity of friends like you.

“These are really harsh conditions for these people, and I think that in terms of shelter, food and medicine, we need to intervene very quickly,” Josselyne Midadje, UNHCR Protection Officer, reports from Dungu.

Emmanuel and the other refugee children have little chance of ever returning home. Yet they remain safe and protected inside Congolese borders. Even Emmanuel takes some time off from taking care of his sisters to play a game of soccer with other kids his age.

War may have stolen his childhood, but Emmanuel is determined to reclaim his life.
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