LWF-Run Schools at Refugee Camps in South Sudan Offer Child-Friendly Spaces
MABAN COUNTY, South Sudan/GENEVA, 25 October 2012 (LWI) – Haram Jukin has always wanted to go to school, but poverty and war have stood in her way. In mid-October the 10-year old started classes in a crowded refugee camp inside South Sudan.
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) opened Haram’s school in the Yusuf Batil refugee camp, a sprawling collection of tents and makeshift shelters just across the border from Sudan’s Blue Nile State, from which Haram and her family fled earlier this year. A simmering insurgency and government counter-offensive have pushed more than 110,000 refugees, the majority of them children, across the border into four camps in Maban County, part of the newly independent South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.
The Jukin family says they decided to leave their home village of Kukur after months of aerial bombardment by the Sudanese military.
“The bombs would fall and we would run to the streams and sleep there. After months of this, we decided to leave,” said Kames Jukin, Haram’s father.
The trek took the family two months. Haram’s mother, Shaia Hamed, says she walked with food and a child dangling from each end of a pole she carried across her shoulders. Her husband usually carried another child, while Haram and her 14-year old brother Saddam walked alongside.
The family’s precious supply of sorghum ran out after several weeks, and they eventually slaughtered the animals they had brought from home. Before the end of their journey, food grew scarce.
“Father would climb trees and pick leaves which we’d boil and then eat. They tasted awful,” Haram said.
Hiding frequently in the bush to avoid detection by soldiers, the family finally crossed into South Sudan, where Kames said they found representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who directed them to the camp, where they received emergency food rations and a plastic tarpaulin.
Since then they’ve resettled alongside many of their old neighbors from Kukur. They are safe from the bombing, Kames says, but life is far from good.
“Look at our clothes. We’re wearing dirty rags. We never dressed like this back in our village. We had clean, good clothes to wear and good food to eat,” he said.
According to Mairo Retief, head of the Nairobi-based LWF Department for World Service (DWS) Emergency Hub for East Africa, there’s no end in sight for the violence in the neighboring Blue Nile State, and in a few weeks when the rains end, flooded rivers subside and the dry season starts, another 30,000 refugees are expected to arrive from the border state between Sudan and the new Republic of South Sudan.
Many of the expected new arrivals are men and boys who initially remained behind when the women in their families fled, taking small children with them. Some men remained to farm, but aid officials also admit many remained to fight alongside anti-government rebels, though refugees arriving here are reluctant to confirm that.
Retief arrived in Maban in June to begin assessing needs in the rapidly expanding camps, and in coordination with UN officials and other non-governmental organizations soon decided that the LWF would focus on education and child protection. Over 60 percent of residents at the UNHCR camp are children, and the LWF has considerable experience working with education in other refugee camps in the region.
The LWF set about establishing an operations base here, but logistical challenges have slowed that process. Moving supplies into the region overland during the rainy season is virtually impossible.
When LWF-run classes for more than 1,000 students started at Gendrassa camp on 15 October, teachers initially had to make do without printed materials. The first three trucks of tons of cargo—tents, furniture, computers, student exercise books and pencils, volleyballs for child-friendly spaces and chalks for teaching—that had been flown in from neighboring Kenya arrived as staff from the UN, LWF, community leaders and locally hired teachers and volunteers were preparing to open the new tented school.
The challenges didn’t discourage Haram, who says she is determined to learn despite the late start. Some day, she says, she’d like to be a teacher herself.
The LWF’s educational work will initially include primary classes, early childhood development groups, and “child friendly spaces,” which will give children a secure place to be themselves in the midst of chaotic camp life.
Retief said the LWF is also working to assist existing schools in the local host community. Relations have been strained at times between refugees and host community members, whose numbers were already swollen with returnees from the north who fled harassment under the Khartoum regime following the south’s independence in July 2011.
“Although they’ve welcomed the refugees here, there have been tensions. They’ve been displaced in the past, so they understand what it’s like to have to live away from home. But there are concerns about water usage and about rapid deforestation to produce charcoal for cooking and lumber for construction. And the refugees all came with their livestock, so there are a lot of cattle and goats and sheep that need a place to graze,” said Retief.
The youth population at the camps in Maban represents a challenge, says Collins Onyango, education coordinator for the LWF regional team at the camps.
“Many young people feel left out. They may have dropped out of primary school or finished primary and haven’t had a chance to begin secondary education. It’s often worse for young women, some of whom married early, but because of the war were left to take care of small children on their own,” he noted.
“There is no secondary education or vocational training in the camps, and so these young people are left to while away their time. It’s a potential time bomb,” he said.
The LWF’s emergency work in the camps includes plans for community-based sports and other activities that can be managed by the youth themselves. Also foreseen are English language literacy training, and vocational skills training in areas such as carpentry, catering and tailoring.
“With no end to the war in sight, the camps will grow, and there will be great need for things like furniture and school uniforms. If we can help train people to produce those items locally, we’re helping them prepare for a more sustainable future while here as well as when they eventually go back home,” Onyango concluded.
The LWF World Service country program for South Sudan is located in Juba. Preparations for the emergency response in Upper Nile began in June this year.
(Written for LWI by Paul Jeffrey on a recent visit to South Sudan)