The gift of a school
After decades of war and displacement, southern Sudan is only now beginning to stand on its feet. The landmark referendum vote for self-determination on 9 January 2011 means that southern Sudan will soon become an independent nation – and will be responsible to its citizens more than ever before. Official independence from the north will be declared on 9 July 2011, the expiration of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
The challenges ahead are daunting. Healthcare and nutrition rates are abysmal, very few people have access to clean water or sanitation, and the education system is starting from scratch. Southern Sudan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, and less than 25% of an estimated 2.2 million primary school-aged children are enrolled in school. Millions of adults are not educated past the primary level, and in most cases are illiterate. There is a severe shortage of teachers, with an average teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher for every 100 students.
Rain stops school
Most classes take place under the shade of a tree, which sounds idyllic, but when the seasonal rains begin it means that schools simply close because they have nowhere dry to hold their studies. The situation is discouraging and disruptive for millions of young students who want to learn. Educated youth are the backbone of a developing nation, and children and teachers in southern Sudan are eager to improve their situation. They just need the resources.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese returnees have been coming back home from the north since October 2010, with over 1,500 people still returning every week. Many fear that they will be forced out of their homes in the north come independence day, and all want to be first-class citizens in their own country.
Due to the thousands of new returnee children in Lakes State, the Jiir primary school still has two classes under trees to host the great number of new students, despite their newly constructed classrooms. Across the country, schools are struggling to integrate thousands of returnee students who were in Arabic-language schools in the north. The hope is that these students can join South Sudan’s English-language schools eventually, attend after-school programmes, or when necessary, the government of South Sudan can create transitional schools to accommodate the growing numbers.
In 2010, Save the Children supported 285 primary schools in 7 of southern Sudan’s 10 states, helping over 150,000 children to get a better education. This year, we plan to train nearly 900 teachers, and continue to handover renovated and rebuilt schools to the Ministry of Education.
Two new schools – in record time
On 2 April 2011, Save the Children inaugurated and handed over two primary schools to the Lakes State Ministry of Education, and the Jiir and Akoljal communities. The construction of the Jiir and Akoljal primary schools was supported by the Basic Services Fund of South Sudan. Due to the dedication of local authorities, school headmasters and Save the Children staff in Lakes State, the construction only took eight months to complete. The project is historic for that reason, along with many others, as construction usually takes 18-20 months to complete in Sudan due to the logistics of working in the rainy season and security along the roads.
It was pure joy, singing and dancing for more than 1,000 children who, prior to the new construction, were learning under trees at the Jiir and Akoljal primary schools in Rumbek Central Jiir Payam. Now these students can learn in a more comfortable environment, free from rain and dust. To see the happiness on the faces of the students and teachers was really special, in a country where a gift as small as a pen and notebook can make the difference in their education – to imagine the gift of receiving a new school is quite something.
Save the Children handed over eight classrooms, one borehole and nine latrines at the Jiir and Akoljal primary schools to the Lakes State Ministry of Education during a ceremony presided over by the Ministry of Education Director General. A total of 1,309 students (809 boys and 500 girls) are benefiting from the construction of classrooms, latrines and supply of 8,000 textbooks, recreational materials and other educational materials in these two schools. In Lakes State, a total of 36 classrooms, 54 latrines and 6 boreholes in eight schools will be handed over by the end April 2011. The authorities were so pleased that they contacted the local media to interview Save the Children staff and spread the word to neighboring states.
Save the Children also supports the Ministry of Education Go Back to School campaign, which includes teacher training, development of Parent Teacher Associations, and social advocacy teams targeting children to return to school. The project ends in December 2011.
Save the Children is supporting education, providing child-friendly spaces to keep returnee children safe as their parents get to work establishing their new lives, and supporting vulnerable families’ food security through a new cash-transfer programme. We’re also distributing essential goods to help people set up their new homes.
Find out more about how we’re helping in South Sudan