Michael Morrah's trip to South Sudan was made possible with support from World Vision. You can donate to the South Sudan crisis appeal here.
Steely-eyed UN troops gripping AK-47s form a protective guard as we leave the aid plane and walk across the tarmac. They're scouring the perimeter of Malakal airport for trouble; there's been plenty of that here lately. In February, 25 civilians, including three aid workers, were shot dead in a massacre at a nearby displaced persons camp.
There's no waiting around. We're whisked away to a Toyota Land Cruiser and told to wait inside until our bags come out. We've come to this war-ravaged region with a team from World Vision, who are here helping the thousands affected by the ongoing intertribal conflict.
UN peacekeepers stand guard at Malakal Airport
We leave in convoy with 10 other vehicles. On the dusty dirt road, we pass women in colourful clothing carrying belongings piled high on their heads. I can see armored vehicles and broken corrugated iron huts.
We're going to a place called the Humanitarian Hub -- a base for aid agencies inside a heavily fortified UN compound. We pass through checkpoints and razor wire-encased lookout towers.
Once at the base, there's a security briefing and I'm shown a bunker.
"It's where you go if the shooting begins," I'm told.
Michael Morrah with World Vision's Inos Mugabi
Having only recently got off a plane from Auckland, it's all a bit surreal.
But as we'd quickly discover, the threat here is very real. Even during our three days working in this area, gunfire could be heard at night. World Vision's Inos Mugabi would ask me in the morning: "Michael, did you hear the fireworks last night?"
A bunker where aid workers took shelter from gunfire in February 2016
This is a war about ethnicity, territory and power. There was such hope for South Sudan when in gained independence in 2011. But the celebrations didn't last long.
In December 2013, the nation was thrown into turmoil after President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy, Riek Machar. Mr Kiir is an ethnic Dinka -- the country's biggest group -- while Machar is from the Nuer tribal group.
The political dissension split the fragile nation and triggered inter-tribal warfare. Tens of thousands have died. Appalling atrocities have been committed by both sides, including by the government's own soldiers.
South Sudan President, Salva Kiir, L, and his deputy, Riek Machar
More than 2 million have been forced from their homes. Thousands have fled to neighboring countries.
Around 1.6 million have been internally displaced, with 185,000 now living inside protection of civilian camps (POCs) -- UN sites where those who have lost everything shelter from the war. There are dozens of these camps dotted around the country. Around 645,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.
A shelter inside the Malakal POC, where 38,000 are taking refuge from the war
The POC just outside the gates of our compound is a place of utter deprivation. Around 38,000 people are staying here, mainly those from the Nuer and Shilluk tribes.
Forced from their homes, they now live in crammed makeshift huts. Filthy, mosquito-infested drains encircle the camp. It's a squalid existence, made only bearable by the good work of NGOs like World Vision.
Children at the Malakal POC camp collect water from a UN water station
One of the residents I met along the way was James Jany, a 36-year-old who used to earn a living as a driver. He told me how in February four of his friends were gunned down in broad daylight. It was an unprovoked attack on the UN-guarded camp. Civilians were shot and shelters burned by men, many of whom were wearing government military uniform. James described how everyone here felt targeted, no longer safe in their own country.
Michael Morrah with James Jany, C, at the Malakal POC camp
Most of the people in this camp are much younger than James. Tens of thousands of children have grown up in camps like this surrounded by violence and men with guns.
But there are programmes to help young people refocus their minds. World Vision runs what it calls Child-Friendly Spaces. It's literally just that -- a space, a small area of dirt, where children and their teachers sing, dance and laugh.
Amid the chaos of living at the POC, they get the chance to just be themselves, to just behave like children -- a simple but valuable escape indeed for those who are growing up in a world that has only known violence, fear and hunger.
World Vision staff dance with children at the Malakal POC camp
If you would like to contribute to life-saving aid for the people of South Sudan, you can donate to World Vision’s crisis appeal today.