South Sudan: after tragedy and hardship, education offers hope
I arrived onto a waterlogged airstrip in Akobo, where the helicopter seemed to hover nervously a little longer than was reassuring.
I had heard rumours of this being the ‘muddiest place on Earth’, so I came prepared with wellies.
Unfortunately, my colleague did not, and like most people here during the rainy season, she was forced to walk barefoot, for fear of the mud claiming her trainers, never to be seen again.
After the mud, the water
Our journey to Save the Children’s field base was far from over, though. Clambering into a small speedboat, we made our way along a river; children and adults were washing and bathing along the banks.
Finally, after a little more walking, we arrived.
Since violence erupted in December last year, around 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes.
A hunger crisis now stalks South Sudan. In Akobo, Save the Children is supporting those affected by the current crisis by providing child protection activities, nutritional treatment, and food security and livelihoods support.
We also provide education through an Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP), funded by DfID, whereby children who have missed out on education because of conflict and displacement can catch up.
It was these activities I had come to visit.
Sebit*, a 13-year-old boy, told me why he, like many other children, hadn’t previously been able to go to school.
“I decided I wanted to go to school last year. My father was a soldier and was deployed, my older brother was sent to Uganda to go to school, and I helped my mother with the smaller children.
My father got sick in the army, and went to Nairobi to be treated but he died. If my father had come back from the fighting to help at home, I would no longer have to help, and would have gone to primary school.”
Fortunately for Sebit, the ALP enables children who have missed out on primary school – a situation that’s all too common – to learn flexibly.
A chance at education
This is particularly important as many are still unable to commit to full-time education.
“Before I started the ALP here, I didn’t have an education,” Sebit says. “My mother didn’t allow me to go to school because I had to help look after the other children.
“I didn’t know why school was important – but now I realise what’s important, and I want to learn. My mother says I can now. I help with my siblings in the morning, and go to school in the afternoon.”
A life-changing opportunity
For children like Sebit, the ALP is a life-changing opportunity. It allows them to reclaim their education, and empowers them to learn in the face of significant challenges and adversity.
Each person I spoke to, including Sebit, had lost a family member, a home, or an education, but none of them ever lost hope.
Name changed to protect identity*