I visited a classroom in South Sudan today unlike anything I experienced as a child. For some of the class time, the elementary-aged students met in a circle under a tree. With a song, they learned about the importance of hand-washing. And to make it fun, it was combined with something like duck-duck-goose. So there was some chasing and screaming involved … and that always keeps kids interested.
The students in this World Concern school come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are from the local community of Wau, and others have fled conflict in Abeyei, a town that is currently in crisis because of a border dispute with Sudan.
Some of the children have endured quite a trial in their young lives. If they are from Abeyei, they have walked many, many miles. We know of families whose children have died as they fled, because of a lack of water and food.
“They were in bad health,” the teacher, Mary Akuot told me. “The children were suffering from hunger.”
The school is in South Sudan, a country that has existed for less than a month. Though independence means freedom from oppression experienced when they were part of Sudan, the challenges here are breathtaking. A 27% literacy rate. The entire country has about 40 miles of paved roads. They’ve endured decades of unrest and war. The culture must shift … and education is a critical element of this transformation.
What this simple school means to each child is different. For some, it supplements their regular education. For others, it is their only education. For all children, the school teaches the basics of math, language, sanitation and health. And it also includes teaching from the Bible and songs.
Teacher Mary is from the Dinka tribe, Sudanese by birth. She sees education as key to escaping poverty, and always points her students to stay in school for as long as they can. She says, if they do, they’ll open up opportunities just like American children have.
“Some of the children who come from the outside villages do not know what an education is,” Mary said. “And now we tell them to stay in school. The children are changed.”
For more information on World Concern’s work in South Sudan, visit www.worldconcern.org/feedsudan.