While there, he visited the scene of a mass abduction of children. “It felt very bleak, walking into an empty playground, seeing desks upturned,” Hiddleston said. “It felt very desolate.”
The village in the north of South Sudan had been the site where 89 children had been taken from a school where they were preparing for an exam. They are believed to have been forcibly recruited by one of the country’s armed groups, though they have never been returned.
Hiddleston also attended a “reunification ceremony” where the release of hundreds of former child soldiers had been negotiated, allowing them to return to their families. He said the visit ended up following in the footsteps of this story of child abductions and political violence. Hiddleston also travelled to a remote part of the country delivering food and medical supplies to families forced out of the towns by violence.
“You stand in the landscape and the horizon is so wide – and you see that there is nobody else helping,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to stand up for those who don’t have a voice. The world is a much smaller place than it once was, we’re all so inter-connected. If there is cynicism, I’d say come and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
Hiddleston said that the U.K. government should become a “leader in galvanising the attention of other countries” in the need for humanitarian relief, whether caused by natural disasters or political conflict. “Everything we do as a nation, every single pound, goes towards making these children safer, to increasing their chances of survival and getting a fair start in life,” he said of fund-raising efforts for Unicef.
Tens of thousands have been killed and about two million people left homeless in the violence in South Sudan. The world’s youngest country has been blighted with conflict since independence in 2011 – with renewed attempts at peace and reconciliation being launched last month.
Hiddleston’s call for more support came as Unicef published an international report warning that 462 million children, a quarter of the world’s school-age children, were living in areas affected by a humanitarian crisis. Among these, 75 million were in danger of missing out on access to education. The millennium development goals had promised that all children would have access to primary education by 2015 – but that deadline passed with tens of millions still out of school. There have been new global goals set for education for 2030.
There are plans for a $4 billion emergency fund to support education in crisis, such as ensuring the refugees can have access to schools as well as food and shelter.
“Education changes lives in emergencies,” Josephine Bourne, the global chief of education for Unicef, said. “Going to school keeps children safe from abuses like trafficking and recruitment into armed groups and is a vital investment in children’s futures and in the future of their communities.”
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