South Sudan: Journey begins in the quest for education in Western Equatoria
18 February 2013

A dilapidated structure that is used as a classroom in South Sudan. JRS has extended its service to Western Equatoria state of South Sudan. (Mercy Muchai/JRS)
Most schools do not have desks and chairs for the pupils. Consequently, students use logs, stumps, stones and blocks as seats.
Yambio, South Sudan, 18 February 2013 - The education infrastructure in Western Equatoria state of South Sudan has contributed to the rate of poor school enrollment and drop-outs. Many of the schools in the state are temporary and semi permanent with just a few permanent ones. Most schools do not have desks and chairs for the pupils. Consequently, students use logs, stumps, stones and blocks as seats. The schools require children to bring their own chairs to use and return home with them as it will not guarantee their security. The dire situation discourages students from completing their studies.

Western Equatoria State in South Sudan was ravaged by war for more than two decades. However, after it got independence (after a referendum in 2011) and returnees started trickling into the state, they were confronted with a new wave of insecurity from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels that further displaced them. The rebel group from Uganda took advantage of the civil war in South Sudan and set-up their base from where they used to launch attacks on Uganda security agents because of its proximity to their common border. After a while, the joint operation of Uganda, South Sudan and DRC security forces flashed them out and now the state is slowly coming out of LRA's grip. The Yambio, Nzara and Ezo counties were the most affected by the insecurity.

Visit to schools.The JRS team, at the start of a journey with the people of Western Equatoria State walks into a school. The team is received with a warm welcome by the Head Teacher. The pupils can be seen arriving in school carrying chairs of different sizes. The children's determination to learn is clearly seen on their faces but at the same time some children with wooden chairs show signs of tiredness after a long walk from their homes. We greet some of the pupils, who are excited, and inquire from them the kind of assistance they need to help them learn. Mary*, one among the children responds, "I need a chair, my mother does not have money to buy me a chair to bring to school, but I sit on a tree log in class". A boy called Mbia says, "I need a good school, when it rains we leave school". The determination of the girls and the boys surprises me but at the same time is a good sign of their efforts to learn even though their school is deficient of the basics.

The Head-teachers and teachers are working hard to help the pupils but their efforts are challenged with the teaching-learning environment. Despite the little resources available, the teachers are determined to help the children. The teachers seek information from far and near because books are not easily available. This brought my attention to a meeting I had with the Minister for Education in the state who had stated that the books will be printed after the resources are available but currently books are in soft copies.

The JRS team walks to the nearby school, and a similar situation repeats itself but with more revelations. Briefly we interact with the girls about their lowest moment in the school, and one called Betty says, "I am not sure if I will complete school, my parents have not paid my school fees", while the next one called Gertrude says, "my parents paid school fees for my brother but not me". The girls are so eager to tell more about their stories but the bell rings to go back to class.

The state of girl's education
. The state of girl's education in the area is indescribable; a number of the secondary schools we visited had enrolled either one girl or none in the senior four class. The girls are determined but they lack support that will allow them complete their studies.

The school infrastructure of Nzara and Yambio counties clearly outlines the poor enrollment of children in schools and the reason small school boys engage in the boda boda (motor cycle taxi) business. Many pupils and students study under very difficult circumstances because many schools are dilapidated and do not have chairs and desks.

As JRS continues to walk with the people of Western Equatoria, partner with the communities and government, we need your prayers and support. It's our hope that based on the JRS mission to accompany, serve, and advocate, we will support the children of this state to get equal opportunities and create an enabling environment to make their learning pleasant.

* This name has been changed to protect the identity of the person involved

By Hezekiah Ronald Ombiro, JRS Yambio Project

JRS has been present in southern Sudan since 1997, working with people internally displaced by civil war. As peace dawned in southern Sudan and northern Uganda, JRS expanded its work and adapted its projects to respond to the needs of the refugees as they returned home, accompanying and serving them as they started to rebuild their lives. In 2012, JRS closed down its projects in Kajo Keji, Lobone, Nimule and Yei, handing them over to the local church and county authorities. Since January 2013, JRS has been setting up a project in Yambio.

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