07/18/2014 04:17 EDT | Updated 09/17/2014 05:59 EDT

Breaking the Silence on South Sudan


A mother waits with her son to be screened for malnutrition at Save the Children's outpatient clinic in Akobo, South Sudan. At some of Save the Children's outpatient feeding clinics in Jonglei state, rates of admissions for severely malnourished children have more than doubled. - Save the Children

Headlines and news stories keep us updated on the sometimes harsh truths around the world. While we are disturbed by the increasingly horrific situation in Iraq and the ensuing displacement of millions of Syrian refugees, another serious humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in South Sudan in near silence.

Since the start of a political conflict last December, the world's newest nation has seen thousands of its people killed and its humanitarian needs escalated to startling levels. According to the latest numbers from the United Nations, nearly 1.1 million people are currently displaced inside South Sudan, and close to another 400,000 have fled to neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. That's nearly 2,000 people fleeing the country every day. To make matters worse, food security in the country is rapidly deteriorating, leaving millions of people at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

Save the Children has been working on the ground responding to the refugee crisis both in South Sudan and neighbouring countries. Our goal is to help save lives and give children the support they need to cope with their experiences, and to help them look to the future with hope.

Having worked "in the field" for Save the Children for over 20 years, I know firsthand that children are the most vulnerable victims of war and conflict. Over the past seven months, many South Sudanese children have been the victims of terrible violence that has erupted near their homes. Many have seen friends, parents and family members attacked or killed, while many have been separated from their loved ones and are now living in camps without their parents or primary caregivers -- leaving them more vulnerable to abuse.

One of our primary focus areas in South Sudan has been leading the effort in Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR), trying to locate children and their families, and bring them back together. So far, we have identified more than 3,300 separated, unaccompanied or missing children, and are helping them receive the protection and support they need. We have also reunited more than 170 children with their loved ones.

At the start of the new school term last February, nearly half a million children in South Sudan were unable to go back to school due to displacement, or because displaced families or armed groups are living in their classrooms. In fact, a quarter of the country's schools remain closed to this day. This is why education -- and psychosocial support -- is another of our priority areas of focus, as it is crucial for both the protection of children caught up in conflict, and to ensure they can still have the future they deserve. Our Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS), for example, provide children with a safe, designated area where they can play, learn, socialize and express themselves under the supervision of trained and caring staff, bringing some normalcy to the danger and disruption they face during a conflict.

While our organization has reached over 160,000 people in the region, including more than 116,000 in South Sudan alone, millions more are in need of our help. We urge Canadians and our government to act. Through our voices and commitment, we can encourage governments and responders to make the children and families of South Sudan a priority. We know that without immediate action, the future for South Sudan -- and its children -- is dire. Action will end the silence that helps feed this atrocity. Join us in helping millions of children realize a future.