Young South Sudanese refugee girl poses in front of a camera in a blue and purple dress against the backdrop of an open field surrounded by trees

Despite a difficult journey and daily challenges, Eva – a 12-year-old refugee from South Sudan – keeps her spirits high as she focuses on a brighter future with UNHCR’s support. © UNHCR/ Roger Burks

A Dream to Heal Suffering

It’s hard to imagine how a 12-year-old girl, forced to flee South Sudan after losing her family to conflict, can speak with courage and drive to relieve the suffering of others. It is with such clear faith in humanity that Eva explains how she came to be in Ethiopia’s Nguenyyiel Refugee Camp, and her aspirations of becoming a doctor.

“We were living in a good situation,” she recalls of her life in South Sudan. Eva lived with her father, mother and brothers in Malakal, a town in Upper Nile province, where she attended classes in Grade 1.

“When the war wasn’t happening, life was good in South Sudan…we could get what we needed, and we got along well with our neighbours,” she explains.

But three years ago, her father, mother and 14-year-old brother were killed when armed forces attacked Malakal.

Eva ran away to escape the fighting, eventually reaching the town of Akobo – just before the border with Ethiopia – six days later. A woman saw her walking alone and offered to help her. She gave Eva some money for the journey, as well as shoes and clothes.

It cost Eva 1,000 South Sudanese Pounds – about US$7.50 – to pay for passage across the river to Ethiopia in a boat.

“I need to serve my people. When I see them suffering, I can help them,”

When Eva reached the Terkol transit centre, she received food, a sleeping mat, shelter, water and a jerry can from UNHCR before being transferred to Nguenyyiel five days later.

With the support of UNHCR, she has since received shelter, food, water, sanitary materials, access to medical care and nutritional support.

Eva is now in Grade 2 in a school supported by UNHCR and its partners. She likes studying English, mathematics, science and Nuer. But her dream is to become a doctor.

“I need to serve my people. When I see them suffering, I can help them,” she explains, a clear vision of her future playing out before her eyes.

Amid the tragedy and sadness she has endured, Eva remains focused on building a better future for herself and for others. She is concerned not only with her own well-being, but also wants to ensure that her friends have an equal opportunity to reach their goals.

“Every human being wants to do their best” she says. “I go to school, I have what I need, and I like to make sure that other children like me have what they need as well.”

With her world turned upside down, Eva has retained incredible poise and grace. She is a natural caregiver, an advocate for change, a born healer.

“Every human being wants to do their best”

However, fulfilling these needs and aspirations is increasingly difficult. With at least 70 percent of the population in Nguenyyiel under the age of 18 – a total of more than 52,000 young refugees – children like Eva face many educational challenges.

There is currently no secondary school, and the primary school is overburdened. The student to teacher ratio is extremely high – roughly 106 students per teacher – and underfunding means that accessing textbooks can be nearly impossible.

With thanks to UNHCR supporters, Eva is safe and is able to start rebuilding her life. However, without efforts to improve the quality of education, Eva’s dream of healing suffering will remain just one of the many hopes and aspirations that float around the under resourced classrooms.

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