Deng Mawut was at home when the rebels came. The six-year-old cowered behind his mother with his siblings. They were looking for his father, a soldier in the South Sudanese army. What happened next on December 17 2013 is etched in his memory.
The rebels turned on his mother.
“Let us slit her throat,” said one.
“No, let’s shoot her,” another replied.
Aweeng Lual had heard enough. She grabbed her children and made a dash for it as the rebels torched her house. They shot her in the back as she ran, the bullet exiting just above her shoulder blade. But she kept on going.
United Nations peacekeepers who rescued the family fleeing from their burning home in the town of Duk Padiet in South Sudan took Lual to hospital in the capital Juba.
In February 2014 the family arrived in a refugee settlement near the town of Adjumani in northern Uganda’s West Nile region, where Lual related her story to us.
“Living here is okay,” she says, gesturing at a huddle of rickety mud huts she and her children share with relatives.
“At least there is nothing to fear now,” she says.
But like hundreds of thousands of children who have fled South Sudan in what has become the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis, her son Deng Mawut carries terrible psychological scars from the horrors he has experienced.
When he arrived in Uganda he was sullen and withdrawn, refusing to go to school. A turning point came when his mother began to attend parent classes at a nearby early childhood development centre.“They taught me proper hygiene and nutrition — how to wash the child’s clothes and keep them clean, what to feed them,” Lual says.