South Sudanese Refugee Children Receive Basic Education Despite Hardships

Driven out of her country by a bloody conflict, teacher Halima Poni finds herself in a dusty patch of land surrounded by rivers sucked dry by the searing sun.

South Sudanese Refugee Children Receive Basic Education Despite Hardships
Pupils studying from under trees at St Egidio primary school in Nyumanzi settlement camp [Photo credit|Paul Night]

By Paul Night

ADJUMANI, 11 December 2017 [Gurtong]-
It is at 8:30am but the sun is already fuming at Ayilo II refugee settlement in Adjumani. Children, aged between 3 and 6 years are running towards their ‘teacher’ who is asking them to make a circle in a dusty compound. Some are crying, others fighting over a pair of sandals. Several others are walking towards the visitors, paying no attention to their care giver.

These are Children of South Sudanese refugees and this is an Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre.

Poni said: “Here they are given to the equivalent of pre-primary education. Despite having basic textbooks, youngsters are taught numbers, oral literature, reading, outdoor and activities such as football, and molding”, She said.

Two years ago, Poni was teaching at a nursery school in Yei, before moving to Juba with her husband.  But then in December 2013, war erupted, displacing hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese. Now, like the children she is taking care of, Poni a mother of four, is a refugee in Uganda.

“We ran from Juba because of the war. My husband remained there because he is a soldier with the SPLA. I am not sure whether he is dead or alive because ever since we came, I have not heard from him,” Poni narrates.

Poni does her work with zeal. She smiles, jumps and sings with the innocent jolly toddlers before they head for lessons in white tents designed as classrooms. Due to the big numbers in a single classroom, small fights are inevitable other children keep crying, maybe due to hunger or thirst, because there is no food and water given to them at Ayilo II ECCD centre.

She said when the ECCD centre opened in January 2016, fighting among children was more rampant.

“If two children fought, they could rush home, call their elders to come and join the fight. Fighting could go on and on, until we started sensitizing mothers on how to resolve such cases,” Poni Says.

She noted that Parents are also encouraged to provide porridge to the children every morning before they head to the ECCD centre because there are no food items at the centre. “Due to the hot weather in the district, children are at the centre until 11:30am.”

Poni explains that despite efforts to bring South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel commander Riek Machar together for peace there are no signs of the war ending soon, for Poni and her children returning home is still a distant dream to catch as years pass by with little hopes for sustainable peace in South Sudan.

Plan International a humanitarian agency established offices in Adjumani, at the time when the biggest challenge was the refugees’ influx.
As of now 48 trained caregivers, both locals and South Sudanese are facilitated to attend to the children in the ECCD centres by Plan International at Nyumanzi refugee settlement, more than 600 children are enrolled in another ECCD centre.

Issa Abuni, the school head teacher said there are more than enough spaces but the major challenge is water. “We have only one source for drinking water which we use as refugees and the community. We also lack textbooks and classrooms from where we can teach the children”, Abuni says.

Despite efforts to bring education to the children, mothers won’t stop lamenting the difficult life they are living.

“We are given very little food; Just 11 Kilograms of sorghum for a month is not enough,” laments Nyandeng Machar, a 50-year-old mother of six who arrived in Uganda in January 2015.

“There is no milk, no sugar for our children. These are the things they were used to. We also have few clothes,” she says.

Nyandeng painfully recalls walking with her children for five days from Jonglei State to Juba. She talks of spending nights in the jungles from where they could feed on seeds of sorghum and dry fish until they reached Juba, from where United Nations trucks brought them to Uganda.

Many of the humanitarian bodies helping the refugees have a say that, children remain the most vulnerable group with both physical and emotional scars.

And the long-term impact of their exposure to traumatic events can be debilitating if not addressed.

Besides education, Plan Uganda has continued  distributing other non-food items, including  kitchen sets, boreholes,  Jerry cans, pieces of soap, ropes, and mosquito nets, pick axes with handle, water tanks, spades, and tents.

Organisations responding to the Refugees situation include United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNICEF, Plan International Uganda, World Vision, Save the Children, Oxfam, Danish Refugee Council, Norwegian Refugee Council, Welt Hunger, and Lutheran World Federation, among others.


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