Building peace through a concoction of light, metals, timber and bricks

Abraham Thon, a young South Sudanese man, puts his electrical engineering skills to use at the Hanbit Vocational Training Centre, run by Korean peacekeepers in Bor.

21 Sep 2018

Building peace through a concoction of light, metals, timber and bricks

Beatrice Mategwa

Abraham Thon stands tall, at slightly over 6 feet, as he works on fixing electrical wiring on a dummy board with several bulbs, sockets and numerous wirings.  He is tall enough for those hard-to-reach places.

Screw-driver in hand, and a protective helmet on his head, he works meticulously, then flicks on a switch, and stops to assess his workmanship.

All the five bulbs on his board light up, and he smiles.

“I am going to make sure that there is always electricity in South Sudan,” says Abraham, who has been training to be an electrician at a vocational training center in the heart of South Sudan’s remote town of Bor.

He is convinced he can make a difference in lighting up a country, where 12-hours of electricity has been a big challenge over the years.

Four other electrical engineering trainees on the same course, have been wiring different boards and have been struggling to have all their bulbs light up.

They are being assisted by their trainer who has been patient and eager to see that their wiring is done right.

A nudge here and there on a dodgy connection, and all the bulbs on the trainee boards finally light up.

Their trainer is an electrical engineer from the Republic of Korea, who has been deployed to South Sudan as part of a Road Engineering Unit that has been serving on rotation in the African nation since March 2013.

Not far off, other trainees are hard at work welding away behind their protective masks and gloves. They are being guided by another seasoned trainer – a specialized welder from the Korean peacekeeping contingent.

Fierce sparks fly about as they work on joining metal to metal. The noise is deafening, as they use both their welding tools and hammers. The smell of metal also fills the air as they build structures they will destroy and start on all over again. The students are now acclimatized to the bright sparks, the noise of metal meeting metal, and the smell of burning steel.

In the same courtyard, a carpentry class is in session. While some students cut through wood with sharp saws, others sand their freshly built stools or shelves.

Their 12-week carpentry course is aimed at ensuring they can build top-of-the-range furniture.

Deng Mark Majok says the carpentry course is “useful”. “After graduating from here, I will acquire some skills,” he says, exuberant with optimism. “If I have some capital, I will go and start my centre and be able to make some beds, tables and sustain my life and help others.”

All the students here are being taught hands-on how to be self-reliant.

“It makes me feel proud because usually people survive using their own skills. I know my own hands can benefit me a lot, instead of sitting idle,” says Majok.

Majok says he now sees fault in the workmanship of any furniture that is not his. “I think what I make is better. Some people do make things which are not actually stable. You can look at one that I made here,” he says as he proudly points out to a well sand-papered stool. “It is very stable. If you sit on it, you cannot even shake. I am going to make [those] which are stable, and people will be able to enjoy,” says Majok.

A separate class is busy constructing a little house in the courtyard. Four built up walls are now being carefully plastered as a trainer looks on, taking time to correct each step achieved.

“I have seen I need to acquire some skills – skills that I can use in my daily activities [in] life. After a year, I have seen that I am going to be somebody in life,” says Deng Maker Deng, who is learning construction work, while bearing the scorching African sun.

He says he does not worry about the dirt on his hands, and is happy that the skill earned will allow him to earn a living.

“When you get somebody doing something, you don’t ask him for money. I really thank UNMISS. They are giving us a skill that I will use to get some money in life. They are teaching us how to get money,” he says.

Deng says he and his cohort of construction graduates will change the face of the town. He says Bor town is not well built, and has seen that some buildings were destroyed during conflict in the area.

“We are going to erect buildings in our town. We are going to change our town,” he says.

For all these students, patience has been key as they work on cable, metal, timber or bricks. They acknowledge that all the separate skills gained will add to building their country and towns, and is just what they need to jump-start their lives in their communities.

For the lads, whose lives seemed bleak before their training began, learning different trades has not been the only thing.

“As we are here, we are also being taught peace, not only acquiring skills. As we are in this school, we know we are South Sudanese, there is no Dinka, there is no Nuer, we are all one people and Hanbit students,” says Deng, who believes his lot are pioneers who will change the face of South Sudan. “We know South Sudan will not have the same problem that was there before,” he says.