Monday, July 9, 2018

Humanitarian Work in South Sudan (2015-2018)

July 9, 2018: 

Today marks seven years since South Sudan declared its independence. That sense of freedom was short lived as a civil war broke out two years later and continues to this day with horrifying consequences to the civilians living there: 5.7 million don't have enough food to sustain themselves, nearly 4 million are displaced, 70% of children are not in school, and 19,000 children have served as armed combatants or support staff.  Additionally, this country has been named the most dangerous place for aid workers in three consecutive years. South Sudan has become the primary focus of Tom Hiddleston's Unicef humanitarian work.

In February 2015, Tom quietly made his first visit to South Sudan. The purpose of his first mission in South Sudan was to learn more about children who have been forcibly recruited by militia groups. 

In November 2015, Tom spoke publicly about his visit for the first time in an article for The Independent: Children deserve a chance of a childhood

The day before I was due to fly to South Sudan - in February this year - Unicef announced that at least 89 boys had been abducted while they were preparing to sit their school exams in Wau Shilluk, in Upper Nile state. These boys, some as young as 13, had been forcibly conscripted into armed militia. 
Three days later, I found myself in the very same village, one of the most remote places I have ever seen. Walking around the desolate school, the destruction left in the wake of the militia's violent interruption of the school day the previous weekend was still visible. The playground was empty, school desks had been overturned and doors were hanging off their hinges. 
In South Sudan, around 13,000 children have been recruited and are being used by all sides of the conflict, putting their lives at risk and irreversibly changing the fortunes of these children. I met a Unicef aid worker in the Upper Nile region, who had met with boys desperate to go home, but bound by the fear the militia had instilled in them. Children face an impossible choice - kill or be killed. For some, these children may seem a lost cause. But not who Unicef who, as well as delivering vital water and health care to children in South Sudan, are working to release and rehabilitate children forced to fight. 

In May 2016 (the same day as the Hampstead School visit), Tom was interviewed on BBC News and spoke more about Unicef's work in the region. "I went to South Sudan last year and I saw just how badly children are affected by conflict. South Sudan is in the midst of a civil war since December 2013... these people who suffer as a result of that conflict are the children, and it's an ongoing conflict. It's astonishing, the figures that were released today: 462 million children in the world, a quarter of the world's school aged children are affected by conflict...". When asked about the criticism on actors doing humanitarian visits Tom said, "I hope that I can give those children a voice. I'm lucky enough to have a platform where certain people - some people, not all people - want to hear what I have to say. So, I want to use that platform to stand up for the most disadvantaged children on this planet because nobody else is going to."

In November 2016, Tom Hiddleston made a second visit to South Sudan. 

He spoke about his return visit with BBC News and BBC News Global: "The cost of the civil war on children has been profound and deep, and I wanted to go back and see what had changed... I think it's a forgotten country.  In many respects it's a forgotten war and that's why I'm here today: I feel a duty to speak up for these children... I've seen extraordinary despair and struggle but I've also seen the joy of what happens when it works; when you see young boys and girls who are brought back to their families. I've seen more tears of joy than I've ever seen in my life..." 

In January 2017 after winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Limited Series, Tom used part of his acceptance speech to thank the humanitarian workers in South Sudan: I dedicate this to those out there who are doing their best. 

In February 2017, Tom showed early footage from his upcoming South Sudan documentary  "about how the civil war has affected the lives of innocent children" during a special Unicef screening in London. laylayarjani: Amazing evening with Unicef ambassador @twhiddleston learning about what Unicef is doing in South Sudan. This is a heart breaking humanitarian crisis few are talking about. It's time to start #unicef

In March 2017, Tom wrote another article, this time for Metro UK, raising awareness about the Famine in South Sudan: Children in the front line of humanitarian disaster.  

Two years ago I first travelled to South Sudan in my role as a UNICEF UK Ambassador and met malnourished children, who were fighting for their lives. Children who don't have enough food to eat are at risk of illness and disease: pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria. Children, too often the case in grave emergencies, are always the most vulnerable. 
At an emergency feeding centre, I spoke to a mother called Regina with her 15-month-old child, Emmanuela, who was suffering from severe malnutrition. Regina had been caught up in the fighting but managed to escape, travelling miles by foot to reach Wau Shilluk in the north east of the country. Eventually, they arrived at the treatment centre where Emmanuela received lifesaving treatment to bring her back from the brink. Emmanuela is one of many children across the country on the verge of starvation due to a power struggle between political factions which are supposed to be leading the country into prosperity. Sadly, there are currently hundreds of thousands of children like her who need immediate help. 

In May 2017, Tom Hiddleston recorded an appeal video bringing more attention to the Famine Crisis in East Africa; affecting the countries of Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan. 

Still to come... South Sudan Documentary 

Tom Hiddleston has been working on a documentary about the humanitarian impact of war on children in South Sudan since his first visit in 2015. The current working title for the documentary is South Sudan's Missing Children, it has been alternatively listed as South Sudan's Stolen Children. The documentary is being directed and produced by Appeal Films along with Tom's own production company, Heath Films. It is scheduled to be released sometime in late 2018 but no exact release date has been announced yet. The documentary will be distributed by Bron Studios (the studio behind I Saw the Light) and Tom's talent agency, William Morris Endeavor**Update** I spoke with the producers and the documentary most likely will not be released this year. 

For more information (or to donate) visit Unicef South Sudan Appeal or Unicef UK's East Africa Appeal page. 

Fashion for a Cause: 

the Unicef shirt worn by Tom Hiddleston on his visit is available from their website with proceeds benefiting the organization.  


All pictures of Tom Hiddleston in South Sudan were taken by Siegfried Modola.


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