War, government collapse, natural disasters and more have already turned the lives of over 13 million child refugees upside down. Their homes have been destroyed, their families torn apart, and their everyday needs no longer guaranteed. Now, just as they're rebuilding their lives and at their most vulnerable, the coronavirus pandemic threatens to do it again.
"My heart bleeds for my children’s safety,” says Hanan Mahamud in Juba, South Sudan. Ongoing civil war in the country has already killed 400,000 people and displaced up to 4 million, but for the mothers of East African refugee settlements like her, the fear of COVID-19 is even greater. “I don’t want this coronavirus to separate me from my children.”
Years of land seizures and drought have depleted steady sources of food in the region. This has made child hunger a major problem, especially in South Sudanese refugee camps where up to a third of all children are diagnosed as acutely malnourished. Since 1989, World Vision has been working in the region to deliver food supplies and curb these numbers.
Sarah Poni, mother of two, worries the spread of the disease could cut off these vital deliveries. “My 1 year old son Peter just recovered from severe malnutrition and I am afraid he might get malnourished again if this COVID-19 continues to keep us home doing nothing to support our families,” she explains. In response to these concerns, World Vision has committed to keeping these supply chains running throughout the pandemic.
Because malnutrition severely damages the development of healthy immune systems, children who are or were malnourished are at a much greater risk for contracting the coronavirus. To make matters worse, settlements like those in Juba are often overcrowded beyond the possibility of social distancing, and more than half don’t have access to any form of healthcare. The same partners and providers from World Vision’s Ebola’s response in 2014 are stepping in to fill that gap.
Sometimes the hearts of the children speak louder than the worry. From their perspective, the worst part about the pandemic is not being able to play with their friends or go to school - crucial aspects of a child’s development, specifically following the trauma many experienced by fleeing. But even those born in these camps, like Kamara (7), know they have to do their part. “I make sure my hands are washed at home before and after touching anything,” Kamara proudly reports.