As the plane lurches forward, so does Changkuoth. Nothing could have prepared him for this journey.
Sure, it is his first time flying, but it’s also what – or who – awaits him at his final destination. Two years after their family was torn apart by conflict, 13-year-old Changkuoth and his siblings will be reunited with their parents.
Despite his nerves, he smiles. He has grown, but he knows they will not have forgotten his face.
“It’s a great feeling. I’m really very happy because I’m going to see mum and dad today,” he says, his smile growing.
Suddenly, mayhem. Changkuoth’s sister spots a familiar sight out the window. They are home.
Missing a mother’s love
Earlier that morning in Bor, Changkuoth and 17 other children were sitting in the dusty and sparse UN Protection of Civilians site, waiting for the car to take them to the airport. “We originally were brought here for school,” he says. “Then the conflict came in 2013 and we couldn’t get home. Since then I haven’t been in touch with my parents at all.”
The fighting in South Sudan began just before the Christmas holidays. Without any means of communication, they had no idea if their parents in Akobo were still alive. UNICEF and partners have registered more than 12,000 children like Changkuoth for family reunification since 2013.
Children separated from their families take their first helicopter trip back to their hometown in Akobo, South Sudan.© UNICEF/Rich
His little sister Nyaneada misses her mother. “I remember my mother used to prepare the breakfast before school and when I got home, lunch was ready,” she says. “My mother used to care for me. I actually stopped believing I’d ever go home and be reunited with my mother.”
Nyaneada knows exactly what she will do when she arrives in Akobo: First she will hug her mother, and then she will look for the nearest school. When she grows up she wants to be a teacher and educate all the girls in her village.
An emotional homecoming
Meanwhile, the atmosphere is electric at the airstrip in Akobo where the children’s parents and grandmother are waiting patiently. It seems like the entire community has come out to welcome the 18 children that are due home today. Everyone watches the sky.
Once she catches sight of the plane, Changkuoth and Nyaneada’s grandmother Nyachol cannot contain her excitement and begins to dance and sing, with tears running down her face.