As the end of the rainy season approaches and talk of hostilities across South Sudan begin again, the children of Leer want what they have always wanted...a safe space to learn.
The article below was sent to Gua Africa by a concerned citizen of Leer who wanted the world to know the difficulties faced by the children of South Sudan. The author has remained anonymous for safety reasons.
Although it focuses on the first hand accounts of children of Leer it is safe to assume that their concerns are shared by many thousands more children across the whole of South Sudan. We hope you find the article interesting and if you would like to help the children of Leer you can donate to Gua Africa here.
In the coming months we will be launching an emergency education project which will focus on the short term needs of South Sudan's schools, including the paying of teachers and the provision of school books and pencils. Please keep checking the website for more information.
Leer School Children Call for Humanitarian Assistance (by a concerned Leer citizen).
Students attending the temporary primary and secondary schools in Leer County of Unity State called for the international community to intervene and provide students with equipment and paid teachers to help them continue their education.
Unity State has been deeply affected by the political conflict that emerged in mid-December in South Sudan's capital Juba. The government troops entered the town in January and left in April 2014. At present the secondary students are sharing the Mary John Primary School facilities with the primary children, resulting in half the number of classes being taught. Gua Africa built five classrooms at the school back in 2010 and it is of great distress to the local community and the organisation that due to the increased demand children in some classes are once again being taught outside under the trees.
One Form 1 secondary student said that the lack of school facilities such as desks, pens, text and exercise books have been great challenges sicne school resumed in the beginning of July 2014. The 18 year old student explained that ten months of escalating political conflict in Leer County had separated her from her brothers and sisters. She does not know where most of them have gone, all she knows is that they fled during one attack on the town.
When fighting spread to the southern counties of Unity State the student ran into a small island in the middle of the River Nile, five hours walking distance from Leer, without her parents. She said she was surprisingly reunited with her parents when the government forces left Leer town in April 2014.
The loss of education for these teenagers will have a negative impact on their lives. The children who are missing school this year are spending their time in other ways. Some are fishing in the river, going to cattle camps; parents are marrying others off. There is concern about some children being recruited to fight as child soldiers by both warring parties.
The Principal of Leer Secondary Peter Duop Kuol explained that when fighting reached Leer both teachers and students fled in all directions for safety. The school administration has lost contact with some staff. Peter went on to say, "Leer Secondary lost it's ability to operate when government forces overran the town. Documents were burnt, school doors and windows were destroyed. The teachers that have returned are working voluntarily without receiving their government salary. Many are leaving to search for other ways of feeding their families."
Peter went on to say that "inadequate school materials such as books, teaching aids, mathematics sets remain the greatest challenges". The school was once able to purchase these materials from the town market but the school has received no financial support from the government since December 2013 when the conflict broke out.
Another secondary student said the school has found it difficult to study in the afternoon or evening hours since typically the rains are worse that time of day and the rain makes writing in what books they do have impossible. Less than a quarter of the secondary classes are able to be taught in the concrete classrooms.
South Sudan also had limited access to education during the two decade long civil war in which Gua's founder Emmanuel Jal fought as a child soldier. Since the signing of peace in 2005 great improvements in education were being made by NGOs such as Gua Africa. It is with great sadness that the children of Leer have been taken back to the civil war era. We appeal to anyone who can assist our efforts to help the children of our community receive the education they deserve.
Thank you for reading.