Enrolment up in one Magwi school as the displaced return home
Pajok Primary School in the Magwi area registered less than 200 new students in 2018, but that number has doubled. The new enrolment figure for 2019 now stands at 374, thanks in part to returning refugees and internally displaced people.
“Out of this 178 are returnees, and 12 teachers have returned,” says Elias Julius Lemi, the school’s deputy head in charge of academic affairs, when a patrol of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reaches the school.
Out of five schools in the area, Pajok is the only one that is operational. With increased returns and the resultant school enrolment, teachers’ morale seems to have received a boost, too, but some disappointment lurks in the air, especially of the logistical kind.
“We need scholastic material to be provided to pupils and teachers, and there is need for a school feeding programme as hunger looms,” says Elias, his smile quickly fading at the consideration of this.
Despite the markedly increased enrolment, food insecurity seems to negatively affect school attendance, as pupils resort to making long hikes across the border to find food.
“Three days ago, some of the pupils left to go back to [the refugee] camp, about 27 kilometers away, to receive their food ratios,” reports Elias, also pointing out that teachers’ earnings are meagre, a headache exacerbated by delays in payment.
“They are not stable in the school,” adds Edward Odwar Onyala, a teacher at the school, blaming the instability on lack of food. “The attendance is not consistent,” he laments, after giving a short account of their displacement in April 2017.
Then, teachers and pupils fled to refugee camps in Uganda, but now are voluntarily returning because soldiers are no longer in the area – a result of the revitalized peace agreement signed in September 2018, which has seen guns go silent in most parts of South Sudan.
They have now returned to dilapidated buildings and food insecurity, but Mr. Onyala is happy peace has returned, and normal school days await.
“The place is calm,” he says.
The Magwi County Commissioner is not too worried about the hunger issue.
“We have already gone so far beyond emergency response,” he says. “People are returning because the area is peaceful. We need roads to be maintained; some of the schools to be built, and hospitals. We are looking at the sustainability,” he adds, encouraging other refugees to return home.