Educating South Sudan’s next generation
A thin torrent of sewage hidden by long grass streams from the residential houses uphill, past the metal gates and makes it way down the ditch, stagnating along a rusty ridged iron-sheet housing that is part of a classroom back-wall and also acts as the school’s outer fencing.
The stench itself is choking, and the scorching sun worsens it further. But for the Southern Sudanese students reciting calculus inside the makeshift classroom,it’s a tiny price to pay to get a basic education.
For refugees, generally, living in alien territory is hard to contend with. And because they lack papers, it’s difficult for them to get into Kenyan schools and even more difficult to get a job.
In an effort to educate their children in the hopes that they will one day return home and rebuild a nation ravaged by years of civil war, the southern Sudanese refugee community living around Nairobi’s Kawangware and Uthiru estates started the SUD Academy – a rustic school in the outskirts of the capital meant to educate children of the many southern Sudanese families in the area.
Started in 2002, the school has a student population of slightly more than 200 students, most of whom have witnessed – firsthand – the atrocities that come with the advent of a civil war. Many of them are orphans who lost their parents in the decades-long civil war in Sudan.
South Sudan fought a decades-long civil war with its northern neighbor Sudan – a war that culminated in a 2005 peace deal that saw the partitioning of Sudan and the birth of South Sudan last July. The war claimed over half-a-million lives and displaced millions others, among those were at least 20,000 children who were separated from their families, CARE International estimates. They sought refuge in displacement camps in neighboring countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.
But with insecurity, food-shortages and unhygienic conditions in displacement camps, many refugees chose to seek better living conditions elsewhere. So they migrate and end up scattered in different towns.
“We were staying in Kakuma when they brought my father from Sudan,”recalls Michael Karsana, a 17-year old class four pupil at SUD academy. “He died shortly after that and then my mother followed.”
Karsana’s father, an SPLA rebel soldier at the time, died of a gunshot wound to the chest in 2002. He now lives with his aunt in nearby Kawangware slums. When we met, he hadn’t had a meal since the day before, because his aunt had not received their monthly food rations from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
For these students, most of who are past school-going age, the will to get an education is unwaveringly strong. But the school’s management is evidently struggling to provide them with it.
With not enough teachers, hardly any textbooks, no laboratories, chipped-out blackboards, fewer classrooms and not enough basic school furniture such as desks, their plight is a difficult one – but they still show-up at school early every morning.
“We get ksh30,000 shillings and some food every month,” says Bosco Ojok, SUD Academy’s Headmaster. “But it is not enough.”
The school, which sitson – roughly – a half acre piece of leased land, is funded by the aid group, CASS (Canadian Aid for South Sudan).
The students are still wary about going back home; nearly six months after South Sudan officially seceded from the north.This, says Ojok, is because the situation back home is still restive and uncertain.
Just last month a spate of tribe-on-tribe violence broke out between two South Sudanese tribes in the town of Pibor, leaving tens of thousands of residents displaced.
Ironically, Ojok says, tribalism is also a disconcerting factor in his school.
“We try to steer them in one direction. But you can still see the animosity between them in the way a student will speak to another who is not of his tribe,” says Ojok.
Tribalism is a deeply entrenched vice in the southern Sudanese culture and last month’s displacements acts as a painful reminder of the challenges that the world’s newest nation still faces within its borders – a situation analysts say risks plunging Africa’s youngest nation back to anarchy.
“The school is providing a lot of help to its students by helping them to get an education while at the same time maintaining their distinctculture. Being able to study at SUD academy also gives these orphans something more than an education and a hope, it gives them a sense of belonging,” says Ojok in the school’s website.
Most of the students, if not all, speak of returning to south Sudan and sharing the knowledge they have acquired here. Some speak of returning to Sudan to look for their parents and relatives. But not without an education, they say.
By RONALD BERA
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