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.

Winds of change blow through South Sudan

Holding the flag of South Sudan
Citizens of South Sudan hold their new flag on the eve of the newest nation's birth.

The winds of change are blowing in Wau. After the biggest rain storm of the season washed the streets clean this morning, the skies cleared, and Southern Sudanese got down to very serious business. In a few hours, the 193rd nation in the world will celebrate its independence.

For weeks now, everyone, young and old, has been preparing for this. Students have practiced their dancing and singing, military bands march up and down as they practice their formations, and everyone is cleaning, decorating and putting on their best show. The optimism and energy are electric. The sound of the brand new national anthem, played through loudspeakers all over town so everyone can learn it, is a background to the frenzied last minute preparations.

But the excitement is not the whole story. Today I sat with people displaced from Abyei, homeless and hungry during the greatest day in their nation’s history. An elderly man named John, blind and frail, ran from Abyei town as soldiers burned houses to the ground. His tales of the journey are horrific, including rescuing an orphaned baby on the way.

The people of South Sudan have welcomed his family and offered them free accommodations. But aid agencies are having a difficult time registering the fluid flow of migrants, and basic needs are not being met. Although John hopes for a new future, he is wise enough to know things won’t change at the stroke of midnight.

Dancing in South Sudan.
People were dancing and celebrating in the hours leading up to South Sudan's independence.

“The new government can make a difference, but what will happen to the people of Abyei until then?” he wonders. “If the area is secure we will go back, but until then we don’t want to be forgotten.”

World Concern will be celebrating along with the people of the new Republic of South Sudan, and we will walk alongside the hungry, homeless and in need until their lives are stable. To help, visit www.worldconcern.org/feedsudan.