Positioned in the northwestern region of Juba in South Sudan is the Mangaten Domestic Refugee camp. Mangaten has served as one of several camps providing various levels of aid and support to the crisis struck southern Sudan. The country of Sudan has faced, what seems to be unending, misfortune and pain. It is a country that has remained in violence, chronic underdevelopment and natural disaster since December 2013. Much of the refugee crisis in Sudan is the outcome of a civil war that has transpired between the pro-governmental forces of the president and the opposing anti-governmental forces of the vice president.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers the situation to be growing increasingly worse. With more than two million refugees, South Sudan is functioning in the largest refugee crisis on the African continent, and this number is only getting larger year after year. Other than the increase of refugees in both Syria and Afghanistan, South Sudan is considered one of the largest crises of displacement in the world. Many humanitarian organizations have worked tirelessly to combine resources and specialty focuses, maximizing the aid that is able to be offered.


One organization worth mentioning is The Chris Oyakhilome Foundation International, also known as COFI. While several organizations operate in one focused capacity, COFI exists to provide support and aid to South Sudan, and other regions of the continent where humanitarian and disaster emergencies occur.


Proper Healthcare is Declining

The healthcare system in South Sudan, and specifically in such a crisis, is below reproach. When countries are in any state of disaster, the healthcare system is left with no means to operate properly and local conditions inevitably worsen. In these situations, the healthcare system lacks many resources and adequate services, in addition to facing complete destitution and desperation of the citizens it is meant to serve.


Out of this crisis, various diseases and health concerns have sparked the attention of many humanitarian and public health organizations. From diarrhea to measles to malnutrition, more than half of the population in South Sudan is in need of assistance. Many of the displaced people have suffered from extreme violence (both physical and sexual) and trauma, requiring far more support and intervention than many can provide.


Amongst the refugees, an overwhelming amount of 65% are women and young people under the age of 18. While the numbers alone are frightening, the conditions and facilities are deteriorating. COFI specifically specializes in aid for women and children, as the Church is called to care for the same. At the Mangaten Domestic Refugee Camp, the Chris Oyakhilome Foundation is taking part in a variety of needs and working with various initiatives in South Sudan to ensure proper access and affordable assistance to all.


Trauma and Stress Effects on Childhood and Family Development

Another focus of COFI during the mission to Mangaten Camp in South Sudan is early childhood education and development. This is an area that COFI deems to be one of the utmost importance in any area of crisis, as it is all too often the young children left to fend for themselves and their families.


Iron sheets and bamboo make up most of the infrastructure that is currently standing in the camp. The elementary school on site is situated in Camp 1, with six classes from preschool up to 5th grade. While the school is there, a majority of children are not in attendance due to the other demands. However, as healthcare and livelihood become more accessible, the attendance at school will improve. As the Chris Oyakhilome Foundation seeks to serve the surrounding needs, it also supports various research and development activities in the key areas of early education and learning.  


Something specific to COFI are the many funds already established and in place to help no matter where the needs are. For instance, the Future African Leaders Award (FALA) supports young leaders to grow and stretch into their true potential. Children are often discouraged and disadvantaged by their circumstances and the influence this has on the future generation of Sudan, and its leaders, is detrimental. The Chris Oyakhilome Foundation International has joined with FALA to offer grants and scholarship aid to young leaders in Africa. This fund encourages and supports young people hoping to make a difference in their communities. COFI is on the scene teaching about the importance of strong leadership and what can be accomplished when you seek to make a change. (The fund alone has served more than 500 communities in 23 different African countries and reached over one million people.)


As the number of displaced peoples skyrockets in South Sudan, conflict rises and food security plummets. When children residing in the camp are not present in school, it is sometimes assumed, or understood they are out finding food and resources for their families. There are other types of refugee camps in the surrounding areas that distribute food in which the young children go and collect to bring back to their families in the Mangaten camps.


According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, persistent stress can change the brain architecture by damaging neurons in the prefrontal cortex and hippo-campus. The needs of the families go far beyond tangible aid as the psychological and psychosocial effects grow stronger and more prominent. Harvard University has done extensive research on the needs of the family in such traumatic difficulties. As the science to policy and practice, they have provided three principles to improve the outcomes for children and families. (See info graphic)


There are many parts to this, but the focus of action falls in the following three areas: supporting responsive relationships, reducing sources of stress, and strengthening core life skills. Together, COFI is working to meet the refugees and displaced people of South Sudan on each of these fronts, as they work to provide support in Family strengthening and livelihood. In addition, and most worthy of mentioning, the COFI team had the honor of meeting the Vice President of South Sudan, Dr James Wani Igga and The Nigerian Ambassador to South Sudan respectively.

The Mangaten Refugee Camp is thankful for the humanitarian aid from organizations such as the Chris Oyakhilome Foundation and others similarly working towards the same endeavors and systems of support.  If you would like to support the work of COFI, you are welcome to contact them via their website here.

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