South Sudan: Education amid conflict and famine
Canadian Jesuits International is participating in an interfaith campaign called PRAY-GIVE-SPEAK OUT to raise awareness and funds for victims of hunger and famine in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Here, CJI shares the testimonies of a teacher and three students at a school in South Sudan. In the midst of the conflict and famine in South Sudan, their school continues to operate — and also provides a daily meal to all the students and to some of the people living near the school.
Greetings! Our school is located in South Sudan, in a so called “rebel” area which has become a battlefield between government forces and armed opposition. Our region is suffering from so many problems: famine, insecurity, economic hardship, cholera…
Recently we were doing very well, having registered 600 students, our maximum capacity! Many parents prefer to bring their children to our school, as they feel it is the only one which is functioning in the area. Many refugees attend our school; they don’t have tents yet and it is hard for them to study while in the camps. They come to school very tired because they don’t sleep well. It is amazing the sacrifice students make, walking two hours to get to classes.
After the renewed clashes between government and armed opposition groups, more civilians were forced to seek protection in the Catholic Church compound in the town, and in the UN camp. I heard from the students that many people were killed by soldiers as they went house to house searching for people from other groups.
Recent incidents have affected the school greatly. The students feel unsafe fearing revenge. Some parents do not allow their children to come to school, for fear that someone might kill them. At the school we have tried to engage different agencies to ensure our students’ safety.
The UN agency that deals with children’s rights and safety visited the school. Also the commissioner of the town and the local governor came. They went from class to class encouraging students to continue attending. He promised the students that they will be safe. These visits have given a little bit of renewed confidence to students, parents and teachers. After the clashes our numbers went drastically down, but now we have over 500 students, close to our full capacity again.
I am supporting students that have been greatly affected by the war. With those who have lost their loved ones, we try to discuss their situations and help them process what has happened to them and to draw strength from each other.
One student told me that he saw two bodies near his home and a couple killed by the road as they tried to flee. Others narrated how their neighbours were killed because they belonged to another tribe. I asked one student, “Have you ever wondered how all this can happen to you if God is Love?” Quickly this student replied, “The problem is not with God; it is with human beings.”
Such words encourage me; I believe that I am doing a very important mission. These children need to be listened to and they need lots of support. We need to help them rediscover our humanity. For children born in South Sudan, “normal” is living in a world of aggression, violence, razor wire and guns.
Thank you for taking interest in reading about what is happening in South Sudan and for being there to support us.
Your friend from South Sudan
Students’ testimonies (excerpts):
- The feeding programme that is initiated in our school helps the students to study without having to think about how to survive during school hours. It gives us energy for learning… [Otherwise] most of the students would go outside the school to look for breakfast, which I view as risky… Already the country is a mess and this would be a peril to students to leave the school vicinity… I remain thankful to all those who are supporting us.
- I think this [food] programme has contributed a lot to our academic excellence… [Some of us] live in completely dire poverty and with this programme students from such families are able to take some meals. This has benefited us academically because, for our minds to be working effectively, our bodies must be healthy.
- Personally, the feeding programme has contributed a lot towards my concentration in class… It has become a [way of] peace building among the students, by uniting them as a result of sharing a plate of rice. Through that, they sometimes become friends and budget to purchase beans [to add to] their rice… Lastly but not least, I would like to send my sincere gratitude to all the well wishers of our school … especially those [contributing to] the feeding programme. May Almighty God bless them abundantly.