By Sara Awad and Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye
“No bullets. One rose for each child.”
These were the powerful words of 10-year-old Majd during a psychosocial session delivered by UNICEF and partners.
It is now 100 days since thousands of children were forced out of their homes following conflict that erupted in Sudan on 15 April. Majd is one of them.
While they continue to find new homes, friends, and ways to cope with the new normal, many live with scars from the horrendous experiences. Without immediate and specialized support, the impact will affect their wellbeing. Providing psychosocial support and catering to their mental health remains a critical part of UNICEF’s emergency response in Sudan. This will not only strengthen their resilience to recover from stress and trauma but also help them to survive and thrive better.
Creative activities helping child heal
In the early hours of the morning, at a gathering point in Madani that hosts over 3,000 displaced persons, majority women and children, children engage in fun and play activities with support from UNICEF and partners. Through coloured drawings, they express their feelings on the conflict and how it has impacted their lives. The fun activity brought together both the young and older children. Using coloured markers to better communicate their stories, majority participate. The smaller ones scribble, it is very participatory.
The mothers watch from a distance while requesting the facilitators to encourage their children to speak up, communicate and share their feelings. They know it is part of the healing journey.
“I have my daughter. She can draw well. She has been so quiet. She needs to communicate and socialize with people. She suffered trauma following what we endured including the constant shooting back home,” Majd’s mother shared.
UNICEF captured highlights from the sessions through voices and drawings of some children.
Majd doesn’t say much. She continues to suffer from flashbacks after surviving an armed attack that killed two of her closest friends, Sarah and Asrar.
“They were waiting by the gate for the car to take them out of Khartoum when a shell fell nearby, and the fragments went into their bodies. They both died on the way, they couldn’t find an emergency ward,” she recalls.
While Majd appeared sad, she smiled back upon seeing the colors and paper. Without thinking twice, she quickly picked up the coloured pen and started drawing. Her drawing was a soldier brandishing a weapon with a flower-closed barrel.” She would later explain what her drawing meant – “No bullets. One rose for each child”
Today Majd wishes for peace to return to Khartoum and for the conflict to cease so that she could reunite with her family in their home. “I miss my cat and books.”
“I also hope that every child that was affected by this war comes back stronger.”
Fatima drew a military tank. Why – “Because of the war. I saw the military tank and soldiers while on the road to another city. There was fighting. At home, I heard gunshots and bombs,”.
Originally from Khartoum, Fatima and her family have fled conflict twice, leaving behind everything – first from Khartoum and later Kosti. They are now settled in Madani which she says is much calmer.
“I miss my friends Omnia, Fatuma and Farida, my toys and dolls. I wish the war will stop. I want to go home.” - says Fatima
One night while Ahmed slept soundly, he was awoken by the sound of gunshots. That day signified the start of the conflict in his hometown that continues to date. “We woke up to sound of gunshots, then it we watched it on the news,” he said.
When the situation deteriorated Ahmed, and his family were left with no option but to leave. “We gathered our belongings and went to the street to find buses. The bus brought us here.”
“During the journey, we saw dead bodies and the stench was bad that it stayed in the bus until we arrived,” Ahmed concluded.
Behind every child affected by the conflict in Sudan is a voice and a powerful drawing. The experiences they have endured cause stress and trauma. Through fun activities as simple as colouring and drawing, they are assisted in healing and coping. Through simple conversations and sharing of experiences, they are taken through the healing process – one day at a time. UNICEF and partners continue promoting mental health and psychosocial support by providing community-led services adapted to local contexts and implemented with the active participation of affected children, their caregivers and families.
“This painting is for every child affected by the war,” Majd shared at the end of the activity.