© UNICEF/UN014024/Rich

This is the beautiful moment when families were reunited in South Sudan

Torn apart by conflict, these children hadn't seen their parents in two years.

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.

Families cry tears of joy as they are reunited on the airstrip at Akobo. © UNICEF/Rich

“It took me a long time to get to see these children, that’s why I was crying and dancing and running to embrace them. I didn’t think these children could still be alive. Now we have hope that other families who are missing their children will see their children come back home.”

After an emotional reunion full of tears, hugs and smiles, the children go home.
 

Nyayjaw, 8, kisses her baby sister Nyagua whom she just met today, after being reunited with her mother. “I will never allow us to be apart again”, said their mother Nyaruon, after their tearful reunion. © UNICEF/UN014006/Rich


Hope for the future


“I wanted to jump out of the plane when I saw Akobo,” admits 15-year-old Jai, the eldest brother in the family. They are all more relaxed now that they are back in the calmness and familiarity of the family compound. “This is a huge change for us. It’s so different to where we were and now we are back with our parents. I’m so excited to be with my entire family and I’m really grateful to everyone who made this happen.”

In the two years spent away from their parents, Jai has become a father-like figure to his younger siblings, especially during difficult times. Now he goes house to house inviting old friends and neighbours to a celebration later that night in honour of the children.

Six-year-old Nyagoa smiles and hugs her father, Wan Kher Gui. After two years apart, his children have just disembarked from a UN Humanitarian Air Service flight chartered by UNICEF to reunify children with their parents in Akobo. © UNICEF South Sudan/2015/Rich

“I want to help other children separated from their parents and reunite them. I will tell them that it can happen. I know because it happened to me.”

Be there for children through conflict and crisis


These are just a few of the 12,000 children UNICEF and our partners have registered for family reunification since violence erupted in South Sudan in 2013.

You can help us continue to reunite families separated by conflict, protect children from violence, disaster and disease and help them to grow up safe, happy and healthy.

By giving monthly, you’ll join our Global Parents in providing the reliable resources UNICEF needs to continue its work in more than 190 countries, delivering lifesaving water, health and nutrition supplies wherever children need us most. Sign up today.

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