A place to learn: classrooms are critical for education

Students are better able to focus on learning in a classroom.
Students are better able to focus on learning in a classroom.

Less than 25% of children in South Sudan are in school. Of those, more than 80% are in temporary shelters.

The area around the village of Kuajok has been especially hard hit by the poverty and desperation of new arrivals from the north, coming with little to no resources. One impact has been a large influx of children in need of schooling. In their classes, which meet under trees, 30 teachers try to manage 3,000 multi-level students. Without the structure of a classroom, teachers have difficulty keeping order and the children’s attention.

If they have them, children bring plastic chairs to class along with paper and pencils. They shift their chairs during the school day to stay under the shade of the tree.

In partnership with UNICEF and Sudan’s Ministry of Education, World Concern is constructing 300 thatch school shelters to accommodate 100 students each. Community members clear the land in preparation for the construction

Putting the thatch roof on a new classroom in Kuajok.
Putting the thatch roof on a new classroom in Kuajok.

and own the shelters upon completion. A typical school site has three shelters. The half-walls are made of plastic sheeting and strong braided wood strips, coated with mud plaster. The roof is plastic sheeting with thatch — a cool retreat from the hot sun. And a place to learn.

Find out more about how World Concern is educating children in struggling communities like Kuajok.

World Concern staff member Susan Talbot, a technical specialist in commodities, logistics and disaster response, is in South Sudan this month.

An introduction to education in South Sudan

Teacher Mary with her students.
Mary, a unique teacher in South Sudan, keeps kids engaged throughout the day.

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.

School kids in South Sudan.
These kids are among the few who, thanks to World Concern, are able to attend school in South Sudan.

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.

Education is vital for South Sudan’s survival

The birthday party is officially over, and now the Republic of South Sudan has a lot of growing up to do. After three days of celebration and festivities, today the people of the new nation have to face the reality of a very difficult uphill climb. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which culminated in secession this weekend, was a six-year “peace” that involved almost daily fighting. This followed a 20-year war with more than 2 million casualties.

An Arabic class of 100.
There are 100 students in this 8th grade Arabic class, held in a tent in South Sudan.

Unfortunately, human lives were not the only casualty of war. Currently, 75% of South Sudanese do not have access to basic healthcare. There are only 20 secondary schools in the entire country of 10 million people. The past few years have seen an influx of more than 2 million refugees from the North, further burdening the underdeveloped system.

Dropout rates in South Sudan are the highest in the world, with less than 25% of children in school. Of the students who do make it school, more than 80% are in temporary shelters, and less than 15% have desks and chairs for the students. Finding a teacher is also difficult, as the adult literacy rate is less than 25%. Girls suffer the most. In 2004, as few as 500 girls finished primary school.

“We need basic education for our children,” said one mother. “The government promises free education, but there are not enough schools. Then we need to provide a uniform and a registration fee [costing about $67]. We don’t have money for schools.”

This awareness is the first step toward change. Adult literacy, especially for women, has shown the value of education, and enrollment is up every year. The government does, however need support. In Kwajok, more than a thousand students still attend class under a tree – and bring their own chair. Teachers have class sizes as high as 100.

Holding class under a tree.
Students often bring their own chair and meet under a tree for class.

World Concern is working with the Ministry of Education in Warrap State to build more classrooms in Kwajok, and together with UNICEF, established a new school.

In addition, we are expanding enrollment in our vocational school, to allow more men and women the opportunity for literacy and job skills. In a rapidly growing economy, demand for skilled trades is high, and these graduates are being employed by the government and NGOs, or starting their own businesses.

The road ahead is long, but for the South Sudanese, it is a worthwhile journey. Education is vital to the survival of a nation. Without it, people will continue to suffer, even with their political independence.  World Concern is excited to walk the road of opportunity with the people of the Republic of South Sudan.

Chris Sheach is World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response.

For more information on our work in South Sudan, visit www.worldconcern.org/feedsudan.

Saving for the future

Joyce holding her pen.
Joyce has a goal of learning to read and write, inspired by her business success and thanks to a savings group she participates in.

Joyce Awa Mavolo told her story with a pen in her hand, symbolic of her hopes for the future.  The 30-year-old mother of six children owns a shop where she sells a variety of goods and handicrafts in Southern Sudan.  For many years Joyce struggled to provide for her young family and keep them fed and clothed.

Things started to improve when Joyce joined a World Concern-sponsored women’s savings group.  These groups of 15 to 25 women meet weekly, save $1 to $2 each week, then take turns loaning their collective savings out to individual members.  This form of finance has virtually no overhead cost, providing a cheap form of credit to its members.

Joyce’s group provides her a safe place to store her money and access to small amounts of cash that she can use to buy items for her business in bulk, reducing her costs.  It also saves her from having to make daily trips to suppliers, which for many women could take half the workday.

The opportunity has helped Joyce become more profitable in her business and be able to provide essential resources for her children. She can now make tuition payments for her oldest son who has recently started school.

“I like our group because the women respect each other. We help each other and we share activities and dream together,” said Joyce.

“I am still young, and all my life I had the desire to learn how to read and write.  I watched others attend school, but I was not allowed to attend school while growing up because I was the only daughter and my family needed my help at home and in the fields,” recalled Joyce. “When I was alone I would pretend that I could write. I would hold a blade of grass between my fingers, and act as though I was writing with a pen in my hand. Now, I will be the first to enroll for adult literacy classes with World Concern.’’

To learn more about how World Concern helps women in business, please visit www.worldconcern.or/ignite.

Thank you letter from Kenya

This letter arrived from Kenya the day before Teriano Soit reported to classes at a university in Kenya. What makes Teriano so special is that she is the first girl from her entire village to attend college. World Concern paid half her high school fees for four years to help make this possible. But it is Teriano’s hard work and dedication to her education that brought her this far.

Students in Kenya.
Teriano Soit (front row, second from left) is the first girl ever from her village to attend college.

Like Teriano, most of the students supported by our Nehemiah Project come from remote pastoralist villages with limited opportunities for education. Their families cannot afford tuition, uniforms or school supplies. Plus, they are often more valuable, short-term, if they are working on the family’s land.

Teriano, along with 15 other students from her village, not only receive tuition, but are trained in important life skills. Teriano says she hopes to pursue a career that will enable her to give back to her community.

As a testament to the education she received, her letter required no editing!

Dear World Concern,

I am sincerely grateful for the financial support you have been offering me for the four years I have been in secondary school. I promise to give back to society what you’ve given me. Just like you enabled me to have a smooth learning in school, I’ll do the same to fellow students who have financial difficulties in any way I can.

May God bless you all for your golden hearts and for the time you devoted to facilitate the seminars you organized for us. It is my prayer that God will continue giving you the strength and selfless hearts to help improve the education status of the Maasai community, hence their living standards.

Thank you also for the inspirational books you gave us. They had such great lessons that no other source could give. I even think they had been purposed by God. Books are the greatest source of knowledge too. I’d therefore request that you continue giving them to your students and for sure they will benefit.

Last but not least, I wish you all success in your endeavors and prosperous lives.

Teriano Soit

Learn more about World Concern’s education programs.

Returning home to Bangladesh

World Concern Director of International Health Programs Dr. Paul Robinson began his new position with a trip to Bangladesh, his native country. He visited World Concern’s programs there and shares some of his experiences below.

Meet Doctor Ragib

A student in Bangladesh.
With World Concern's support, Rajib is on his way to fulfilling his dream to be a doctor.

At a World Concern sponsored elementary school in Bangladesh, I met a young boy named Rajib. I asked him what he hopes to become when he grows up. Rajib looked straight at me and matter-of-factly, with great confidence in his voice, told me without batting eye, “I will be a doctor.”

This short encounter reminded me of another young boy in Bangladesh, who some decades ago dreamt of becoming a doctor. He had very little chance on his own and his family had no resources for his medical education. But only thru God’s grace and His provision that young school boy not only earned his medical degree in Bangladesh, but also became a seminary graduate, and a public health professional in the U.S.

I know this story of God’s miracle very well because I am that boy. And I know He can do the same for Ragib.

With World Concern support, Ragib is well on his way to becoming an accomplished physician as he continues to come to school every day with his dad giving him a ride on his bicycle.

Completing the circle

Her bright eyes, warm smile and gentle spirit connect this young teacher, Jhoomoor Roy, to her elementary students at a World Concern sponsored school in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A teacher in Bangladesh.
Jhoomoor Roy was once a student at this World Concern sponsored school. Now she's teaching children there and giving them the same opportunities she has had.

Watching her in the classroom, it was hard for me to believe that Jhoomoor used to sit on these same benches in this same school just a few years ago, herself a young, student whose education was sponsored by World Concern.

With stellar results, she passed her school and college finals. As she continues her studies at the university, Jhoomoor teaches at this school, completing a full circle from being a student here herself to helping children who, like her, are now being educated.

Donations to World Concern have not only brought blessings to one, but to successive generations as well.

Independence: Evidence of a Job Well Done

This past week I moved my oldest daughter into her college dorm two states away. The milestone, as it is for most parents, was bittersweet. I kept reminding myself that although I will miss her at home, this is the purposeful outcome of 18 years of parenting. We raise our kids with the intent of molding them into healthy, stable, independent adults. The fact that she can now take care of herself means I’ve done my job well.

Two Kenyan students walk home from school.
School boys walking home from Lekanka Hills Primary School.

A recent comment from our Kenya staff reminded me that our work in developing communities has a similar intention. The staff member said, “The community based institutions are showing signs of walking on their own without the help of World Concern.” Way to go World Concern, if I do say so myself! This is an indicator that we’re doing our job well.

One of the young men who received help from our programs in Kenya is a living example of this principle. Otuma Taek had little hope of overcoming the cycle of poverty in his remote pastoralist village. He had a dream of becoming a teacher, but drought had taken its toll on his father’s diminishing cattle stock and his family could not afford the 22,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $270 USD) annual tuition for him to attend high school. It seemed his eight years of hard work and good grades in primary school would be wasted.

But everything changed for Otuma when the village development committee chose him to receive a World Concern scholarship. Otuma enrolled at Narok High School where he had to undergo a qualifying year, which meant he spent five years in high school instead of four—another indication of his willingness to go the distance to gain an education. In addition to paying half his tuition, the program offered life skills seminars, which he says helped him avoid joining the wrong crowd in high school. He completed his final exam with a respectable C average.

Today, Otuma is a teacher at Lekanka Hills Primary School, where he teaches math to fourth and fifth graders and passes along the valuable education he received to the next generation. His hope is that this next generation of students will follow his legacy and someday make a difference in their village as well.

In this same way, we hope eventually World Concern’s support won’t be needed in this community anymore. The village will sustain itself, and we can say, “Well done.”