South Sudan: From liability to asset
18 October 2012

A group of students browse through books in the library at Yei Day Secondary School in Yei, South Sudan that was set up by JRS. (Sergi Camara/JRS)
One day, I fell down mysteriously and my mother thought it was a normal falling of children as I was still learning to walk, but I couldn’t get up any more.
Yei, South Sudan, 18 October 2012 - My name is Alex, a 25 year-old South Sudanese born in a village of Yei River County.

According to my parents, I was born normal and started walking well like any other children. One day, I fell down mysteriously and my mother thought it was a normal falling of children as I was still learning to walk, but I couldn't get up any more. Right then my legs lost strength and become paralyzed and I grew up in this condition.'

At the age of six, when seeing my age mates moving to school, I developed interest and told my parents that I would like to go to school too, but they were totally opposed to my decision; it sounded to them like I was dreaming. The question they asked was, "how can you walk to school?" But I insisted that even crawling, I would move to school. When my father realized that I was too determined to reverse my decision, he made for me crutches to aid my movement to school.

Assistance from a Good Samaritan. One day when we were coming back from school, it started raining heavily and all the rest ran away. Given my condition, I could not run to escape the rain and at the same time feared taking shelter at a nearby place in case the rain continued till late into the night. In the process of struggling to reach home, the rain overpowered me and I fell down. A Good Samaritan who saw me falling down came and helped me get up and I continued on my way home. He pitied my condition and asked if I could use a wheel chair. Before finishing his statement, I responded very fast that I was able to move with a wheel chair, and then later he brought for me a second-hand wheel chair, which aided my movement to school.

When I finished my primary level, my parents could not allow me to enroll in secondary school saying that there were no school fees for me and yet they paid school fees for my siblings who were considered normal. I did not know what to do as being disabled I could not work to support myself. As I watched my classmates with whom I finished primary school together attending secondary school, I cried bitterly. At home I was considered more of a liability than an asset, who disturbed people to do for me this and that. Though it was not said out loud, I could see that the family was wishing me dead to relieve them from my disturbance. But I kept praying to God to open me an opportunity to get school fees.

Journey towards empowerment. One day I decided to go to Yei Day Secondary School, which was the nearest secondary school to our home and expressed my interest in the school and explained my condition to the head teacher. The head teacher felt very sorry and accepted me to enroll in senior one and told me he would refer my case to Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) that also assists such vulnerable people like me. Indeed, after a few days JRS came to school and when the head teacher presented to them my case and after seeing my condition, immediately they considered me for the assistance given to vulnerable students. JRS also provided a new wheel chair for me when they saw the old one given to me by the Good Samaritan was in a bad condition.

I completed my senior four in 2011 under JRS sponsorship for which I am very thankful. JRS has raised my ambition and improved my status and self esteem. The knowledge I acquired made me more self-reliant than entirely depending on my parents. Intellectually, I can now compete with my contemporaries. I used to pray at home but with the wheelchair JRS provided, I go for church services together with the rest of the people. My only wish is that if another Good Samaritan such as JRS did could help me attend a course to get a professional skill to come and assist my community where I would be a role model to the rest of disabled people like me and their families. Now I have become an asset, no longer a liability as my family first considered me. No one in this world is a liability to the family or to community because of his or her disability.

Message of inspiration. My message to the disabled is that, no one should underrate himself or herself because of being disabled. God has a plan for every human being regardless of their condition. Be determined in whatever you decide to do to improve your life and help the community.

I do not have the language to express my joy to JRS for the assistance that has made such a dramatic change to my life. The only thing I can say is; may God continuously bless JRS to keep extending such help to others wherever they would be.

JRS began work in Yei, South Sudan in 2004, assisting returnees who had been exiled in Uganda following the two-decade long civil war in the then Sudan. By the end of 2012, JRS will have closed down the project in Yei after eight successful years. The schools will be transferred to the Payam and County Educational Departments. More than 12,000 people directly benefited from JRS activities in Yei in 2011.

Compiled by Malish Isaac, JRS Yei Secondary Education Coordinator.