(Written for LWI by Melany Markham, LWF Communications Officer in Juba, South Sudan)
JUBA, South Sudan/GENEVA, 8 February 2012 (LWI) – There is a hunger for education in South Sudan that is obvious wherever you go.
Young people will travel hundreds of kilometers to attend school or university. Old people in the most impoverished areas will ask a visitor for food, but young people will ask for scholarships.
Violent conflict all but destroys education systems and leaves the resident population with the skills needed to survive, but without the knowledge needed to rebuild a country. In this way, education is an important catalyst as a country transitions from war to peace.
But no one dies from not going to school, and other life-threatening needs–for food, water, shelter or healthcare–can seem far more urgent during an emergency. It is only in the last few decades that education has become an integral part of emergency response.
In 1996, as an expert appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General, international children’s rights advocate Graça Machel prepared a landmark study, “Impact of armed conflict on children.” that described how conflict harms children not just physically, but socially and emotionally as well. The cognitive development of children suffers during war because skills such as literacy, numeracy and critical thinking are delayed.
Barriers to Schooling
Elbeah Kashemba is 26 and, against the odds, has finished secondary school and is trying to complete a degree in natural resources management.
He started the course at a university close to his home in the Nuba Mountains which is in the disputed area in the north of South Sudan. He fled to Juba over six months ago when his home was bombed by the Sudanese military.
Along with approximately 40 other students he is now living in a makeshift hut trying to make ends meet while he studies his degree.
“There is the problem of fees, accommodation and an income. Those in the Nuba Mountains are missing out,” he says. Altogether, there are 135 students like him who are trying to continue their education in Juba.
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a founding member of the ACT Alliance, has helped Kashemba and his group with a one-time grant for basics–food, blankets, cooking utensils and the materials to build their huts–but they will need more help if they are to complete their degrees.
Groups like Kashemba and his friends are common. Some Sudanese students travel as far as neighboring Uganda or Kenya, without their parents, to go to school. During the war, many ended up in the LWF-managed Kakuma refugee camp some 380 kilometers from Juba. Over the past six months as many as 150 refugees from South Sudan have been arriving every day in Kakuma.
Building Local Schools
But travelling far from home for an education is not a good solution for children and their families. Ideally schools should be located closer to towns and villages where people already live. In recent years, the LWF has built 13 schools in some of the more remote areas, which has increased the number of children attending school.
The buildings that the LWF has constructed withstand conflict better than traditional buildings which means that children can return to school soon after violent attacks. During a recent cattle raid in Duk Padiet, the concrete school building with iron-sheet roofing was not easily burnt, unlike some of the traditional grass and clay huts in the town.
Cattle raiders broke into one classroom and destroyed textbooks, exercise books and blackboards but, compared to a school, these are inexpensive and simple to replace. In fact, they will be purchased before classes resume in mid-February.
But despite the best efforts of Sudanese youth and non-government organizations like the LWF, there are still more than 1.3 million primary school age children in South Sudan who are out of school.
The country is second-to-last in world rankings for net enrolment in primary education–and at the bottom of the world league table for enrolment in secondary education according to a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published last year.
For girls the situation is extremely dire–a girl in her early teens in South Sudan is three times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than to reach grade eight.
A lack of education causes a vicious cycle. It means that there is a dearth of trained teachers to staff schools. According to the UNESCO report, in some parts of the country a single teacher can teach up to one hundred students.
Education is fundamental to South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, for more than just practical reasons. The founding father of the country, Dr John Garang, constantly stressed that education fosters self-reliance, expands choices and shares prosperity.
Education will underpin peace, and if a South Sudan, independent since July 2011, is to be Garang’s lasting legacy, then the education system must continue to improve. (823 words)
(Written for LWI by Melany Markham in Juba, South Sudan)