Mercy finds a haven in new youth centre24 year old Mercy Akuot first fled her home in South Sudan with her family and then fled from her family when they wanted to marry her to a much older soldier. Today she lives in the Kakuma Refugee Camp where she has found a haven in the newly constructed youth centre. Here she receives help to build a future.
Mercy discovered her parents’ plan when she wondered why they did not ask her what she needed for the beginning of the school year. She was 15 years old.
“You’re not going back to school. You’re getting married,” her mother told her.
The groom to be was one of her father’s friends. Mercy estimates that he was around 50 years old.
“He was a soldier, so I would be forced to move back to South Sudan,” Mercy says.
She had spent most of her life in Uganda after her family fled the civil war in Sudan prior to the southern part of the country becoming independent in 2011.
The news about the upcoming marriage came as a chock to the 15 year old Mercy.
“It was impossible for me to understand that the exact people, who are meant to protect me, would do such a thing,” she says.
But the soldier had already paid the bridal price for his young wife to be so there was nothing she could do. Except one thing; flee. And so she did. First she fled to an orphanage and afterwards - with the help of an American couple – to Kampala in Uganda where she lived for some years.
“When I graduated secondary school, I started wondering what had happened to my family. I reached out to them and got in touch with them. They told me that my mother had died. I got through to my father and spoke with him over the phone.”
“The next day the man whom I was supposed to marry called me. He said that because he had already paid for me I belonged to him, and that I couldn’t run forever. In that second I knew that I wasn’t safe in Kampala. A short time later, I ended up here,” she says.
Youth centre is a haven
Life in a refugee camp is not easy and not many things are as they are supposed to be, Mercy says:
“Kids are born in the camp and they grow up with a nationality but have never seen their homeland. The world shouldn’t be like this.”
One of the main issues in the camp is that all the youngsters have nothing or little to do with their time.
“It’s so harmful when young people have nothing to do. They sleep all day or they start using drugs or join gangs. There are also a lot of teenage girls who become pregnant.”
READ ALSO: DOCTOR WANTS TO BE A RAPPER
“That’s why I’m so thankful for the youth centre. Here we can meet up and do something meaningful. This is a place where we can escape the life outside. So I would like to thank those who made it possible,” she says.
Mercy hopes for a career in public relations and she uses the youth centre for her studies. Most of all she hopes to be resettled in Australia, Canada or Britain.
“I’ve been told that there are a lot of great schools in these countries. But one has to be very lucky to get there. It’s almost like winning the lottery.”