A day in the life of Rose, a child refugee from South Sudan

Home > A day in the life of Rose, a child refugee from South Sudan
Posted on 06/20/2024


Nine years ago, Rose’s father was killed in a flare-up of violence in South Sudan. Eventually, her mother decided to flee to northern Uganda with Rose and her two younger sons.

Soon after the family arrived in the settlement, however, Rose’s mother abandoned them.

“She went back to our farm [in South Sudan], but we have not communicated since because we have no phone. We only heard that she remarried when she returned to South Sudan,” says Rose.

Now, at age 17, Rose has been a caregiver to her two younger brothers, Julius, 15, and Brian, 9, for the last five years.

It's a tough situation, but Rose isn't giving up.

Rose and her brothers live in the Palorinya Refugee Settlement in Uganda, home to thousands of refugees from the conflict in South Sudan.

ChildFund works in the Palorinya settlement by providing three Child-Friendly Spaces for children and youth. The Child-Friendly Spaces are fenced-in compounds, each with a classroom block, toilets and a playground so that children have a safe place to play, learn and interact with one another each day. We also train community leaders on and promoting awareness about gender-based violence and child protection issues. 


At Palorinya, Rose's family receives small food rations from the World Food Program each month, including beans, maize flour, salt and oil. However, the meager rations they receive have never been enough to keep the family well-fed. Starting at age 12 when her mother left, Rose began to work odd jobs like washing clothes, farming and fetching water to provide for herself and her siblings. Unlike other children in the settlement her age, she never enrolled in a local school.

“While in South Sudan, my mother was helping us with family responsibilities. But now that both parents are gone, I am responsible for my brothers at home. … I engage in casual work to raise money for home. If there is nothing, I let my brothers know and we just sleep hungry,” says Rose, who cooks just one meal a day when food is available.

Rose’s hard work enabled Julius and Brian to attend school here in Uganda, even if she could not. “My brothers have their own needs like medication, clothes and food. I also pay school fees for my brothers,” she says.

Two years ago, Rose had a visit from her local Male Action Group, a team of three local male leaders and community members trained by ChildFund to keep watch in their community for issues surrounding gender-based violence and child protection. “The group advised me to return to school,” she recalls. “They said staying at home during school days is bad. They said children should go to school to help themselves, their parents and their future.”

After a series of visits and discussions, as well as a meeting with the local school headmaster, Rose agreed to start school here in Uganda.

“As Male Action Group members,” says Andrew Kaya, one member who visits Rose and her brothers, “we now go to these homes, and we just tell them, ‘Please, we know it is a very big issue, but when your parents are not there, you need to know that you still have a future. You still have something to do. Your parents not being there does not mean you need to be spoiled or not to go to school or do something for yourself. You still have to value yourself … The future is just tomorrow.”

RS66329_2307_cfuganda3173_lpr.jpgShown here, Male Action Group member Andrew Kaya, one of the group members who works in Rose's zone, was a DJ and radio broadcaster back in South Sudan. Today, he broadcasts messages about child protection and gender-based violence over the radio for the Palorinya Refugee Settlement. “We don't support them with anything. Ours is only the words of the mouth,” says Mr. Kaya.

As a refugee himself, Mr. Kaya is hardly of the means to provide physical aid to the families he and his group visit. In Rose’s case, however, seeing that Rose and her two brothers were sleeping in the same one-room house on the same mattress each night, he knew a second one-room house in the compound was needed for Julius and Brian. “I am grateful to the Male Action Group because, upon finding our situation at home where my brothers and I are sharing the same room - which limits my privacy as a girl - they decided to construct another house," Rose says. "If it gets roofed, my brothers can sleep in it.”

The young family has suffered economic loss now that Rose is in school and not able to work as much. “During school days, we do not have breakfast,” she says. “We only eat porridge on weekends if we have flour. I perform well in some lessons because I have learned to adapt to this situation. But if there is totally nothing [to eat], I do not attend lessons because I am always looking for something to cook, and this affects my performance in class. If I had the opportunities that other children had, I think I would perform very well.”

Unlike before, Rose sees these hardships as something only temporary.

“I know now that education is important to me because no one else is helping us,” says Rose. “If I do not study, who is going to help me?”

One day, Rose aspires to become a nurse “so that I can help my family. Nurses treat people, and they are paid money,” she says.

“If I get married,” says Rose, “I will not go and leave my children to suffer like us. Those mothers who neglect their children do not know what they’re doing. What I have witnessed has taught me never to abandon my children no matter what.”