Picturing South Sudan: Powerful photographs by Game of Thrones' Liam Cunningham

Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham has travelled to South Sudan with international children's charity World Vision to photograph some of the people it works with in one of the poorest countries in the world.

The world's newest nation is grappling with a worsening child soldier crisis as the country marks its seventh independence anniversary this week. More than 19,000 children have been conscripted into various armed groups in the conflict-ridden country, but the actual number could be even higher.

Warring sides have engaged in peace talks for years, but little progress has been made so far. Since the conflict erupted in 2013, parties have reached several ceasefire agreements, most of which have been subsequently broken.

Liam, who plays Ser Davos Seaworth in the hit HBO series, is an accomplished photographer who took pictures of the people he met on his visit. He said: 'In South Sudan I met some of the most powerful, inspirational people I have ever experienced. It was mainly women and children I met and they had witnessed violence no one should ever have to endure. Children who had witnessed their parents being murdered and then were forced to become child soldiers.

'I saw mothers desperately trying to nurse their hungry babies. The situation was dire but the spirit of these people was unstoppable. It was inspirational. What World Vision is doing in South Sudan is giving these people dignity. The dignity that conflict tried to strip from them. The people I met are fighting back. Not with guns or weapons but with grace and with determination.

'I have tried, through the portraits I took, to share the stories of these amazing individuals. It was an honour to meet them.'

This is an exclusive gallery of some of Liam's photographs.

Liam CunninghamNyakuoth's baby is six-month old Nyagoa.

Nyakuoth says: 'In 2015, when war broke out, we ran to Melut. We were flown from there to here for UN protection. But there's not enough food here. The plastic leaks in our house. There's not enough firewood or charcoal for cooking. Four of my family members were killed when we were trying to escape. We felt targeted so we decided to come to Juba. I gave birth to her here, she's a child from this place.'

Nyakouth's family have lived in the Juba Protection of Civilian site where they've lived in a tent for the last four years. Nyakouth is one of 38,000 people living in Juba's protection of civilian site, where World Vision provides food assistance every month.

Liam CunninghamNyalele is nine years old.

'My favourite game is dodgeball,' says nine-year-old Nyalele, who has lived in the Juba's Protection of Civilian site for the last four years. Her family escaped fighting and ran to this site where they've lived in a tent for the last four years. 

Liam Cunningham20-year-old Nancy's son Dio is 15 months old.

'He's had diarrhoea and a fever. He's too sick,' says Nancy about son Dio. At a World Vision nutrition centre, Dio was diagnosed as severely malnourished. He will receive a package of ready-to-use therapeutic food, which will help him gain weight. More than a million children under the age of five in South Sudan are malnourished.

Liam Cunningham26-year-old Susan has month-old twins, David and Daniel.

'We walked for over an hour to get here. We're here to see how they're doing, we're here for their first check-up,' says  Susan, who came to a World Vision supported nutrition centre with her twin sons David and Daniel. Her niece Susan (on the right) is helping Susan take care of the children.

Liam Cunningham'My brother was shot' said Santo (left).

'My brother was shot, I saw it happen. We had to run,' says 13-year-old Santo, who is among the 4 million people who have fled their homes due to South Sudan's conflict. 'I come here, [to the Child Friendly Space] to forget the pain. I want to be a doctor and help the sick.'

Liam CunninghamMary is 15.

'There are some bad parents who force girls to get married, they don't ask the girl's consent. My friend, it happened to her. She was married when she was 15,' says 15-year-old Mary. 'Now the girl is pregnant.' South Sudan has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with 45 per cent of girls married before their 18th birthday. Mary is determined that she gets her education first – but it's difficult when poverty, gender discrimination and cultural practices force girls to drop out of school or never attend at all. Only 16 per cent of adult women are literate in South Sudan.

'I should be struggling with school and after I should think about marriage,' Mary says. 

Liam CunninghamNatana Stephen Charles (centre) is a science and computer teacher at a school in Rajaf.

Natana returned to Juba after growing up as a refugee in Uganda. World Vision introduced computers to his school in 2016 and he teaches the younger children how to use them. He says: 'South Sudan is one of the countries with a very low standard of living, this is because most people are illiterate or not educated. Teaching is important to me because I want children who are our future generation to have a high standard of living, not as a kind of life that their parents are in. I want them to be able to have more than I have.'

For more information on World Vision's work in South Sudan, click here.