Here’s the thing about Malakal – there are no chickens. After you ask me ‘where’s Malakal?’, you might wonder why this is an issue.

Malakal is in Upper Nile State in South Sudan, the world’s newest country having separated from the North in 2011. The same year South Sudan gained independence, War Child Canada received funding for programming in the country and in late 2012 the work began. That’s when I went there. That’s when I noticed the chicken issue.

Chickens are a constant in most rural African settings, like Coke, Pringles and instant Nescafe, so the lack of them in Malakal had me curious. As we were having lunch one day with our local partner, the Upper Nile Youth Development Association, I asked about the issue.

“People have chickens when they feel settled,” they said “no one here feels settled. If you have to leave quickly you cannot take chickens.” As I asked around about it more I found out that there had been a large program that was giving out free chicks while teaching people how to raise and care for them. There were few takers. In Malakal 64% of the population are involved in keeping livestock so this lack of interest was more of a statement.

And there’s a valid reason to want to stay easily mobile. In the three years between 2009 – 2011 there were 460 recorded incidences of conflict in the country; 44% of which were cattle raiding (most involving arms), 25% were armed skirmishes, and 15% were inter-tribal fights. In 2011 the northern part of Upper Nile State was bombarded by the Sudan Armed Forces following clashes between SPLM-North with Khartoum government in Blue Nile State. Approximately 81,000 people were displaced.  In this context, chickens won’t be making a quick comeback.

War Child’s work in Malakal focuses on creating opportunities for children and young people through education, as well as skills, vocational and leadership training. Underpinning all the work is the idea of conflict prevention – that through bringing together children of diverse ethnic and tribal backgrounds to share in common work and common goals, it is possible to end the cycle of violence. It is possible to create more stable communities in which childhood can thrive. And then the chickens will return.