Nyameer Mario, 6, Nyawan Mario, 4, Ruai Mario, 10, and Machiey Mario, 8, wait to be taken to their mother through the United Nations’ reunification program. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
Three years ago, 38-year-old Nyagonga Machul had to leave her five young children when fighting broke out between government and opposition forces in South Sudan. The children, who were staying with their grandmother, ran into the bush when gunmen approached their village.
On Monday, after years of wondering whether they were safe, Machul and her children were reunited.
A political leadership dispute in South Sudan sparked the violence in December 2013, forcing an estimated 2 million people from their homes and causing 1.5 million more to flee the country. Families scattered in the chaos, but from time to time, lost loved ones are reunited.
With the help of friendly neighbors, Machul’s children made their way to a U.N.-protected site in the town of Bentiu in northern South Sudan. UNICEF works with local partner groups to help protect and reunite children with their families through its registry database.
They matched the lost children with their mother, who by then had taken residence in another protected camp in the capital Juba, 620 miles away from Bentiu.
“God has answered my prayers,” she said upon their return on Monday.
Reuters chronicled the Machul children’s journey in this report. See their reunion in the photos below.
Children play a board game Feb. 9 at the U.N. camp near Bentiu in northern South Sudan. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
The Machul children leave their temporary home near Bentiu to travel to Juba to be reunited with their mother. A fifth child, Nhial, 14, (not pictured) acted as the caregiver in his mother’s absence. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
The children wait to board a U.N. flight to Juba, where their mother is waiting. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
Internally displaced people wash and collect water in a reservoir in the U.N. Mission in South Sudan’s camp near Bentiu. About 120,000 people live in the camp. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
Nyagonga Machul, 38, embraces her children Feb. 13 in Juba. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
Nyagonga Machul’s children gather around her. UNICEF uses a central database to try to reunite family members separated in the fighting. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
A U.N.-run camp outside South Sudan’s capital Juba houses those who have fled the violence between government and opposition forces. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
Nyagonga Machul talks with two of her children after their long journey. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
The youngest child sits by her mother as she sews a table cloth. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters
The mother touches the feet of her daughter, Nyawan Mario, 4, who was only 1 when they were first separated. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters