Students speak out for women and durable peace in Upper Nile
A tall, demure girl weaves her way purposely through the crowd of students seated calmly under a tree in the sweltering heat of Malakal – a growing town in northern South Sudan. When she gets to the front of the crowd, there is pin drop silence as hundreds of people watch her intently, preparing to listen to her. At first, she is barely audible, but the eager audience urges her to speak louder.
“We have seen the importance in supporting girl-child education especially here in South Sudan. My message to the Ministry of education, with the cooperation of the United Nations and the NGOs is to support girl-child education.” she says. “To my colleagues be committed to school and encourage your friends who are not in school to come.”
18-year-old Aguil Abraham Malok was the only female entrant in the recently concluded regional essay competition in Malakal. Her effort earned her second place among her peers, which came with a shiny silver trophy, a medal, and a backpack, which she carried with pride.
Encouraged to see students from the protection of civilians’ site mingling freely with their counterparts from town, Gender Minister Elizabeth Akuol Chuang launched into a moving speech.
“I do not want to see you young men in town walk on all fours because you are drunk. I am asking you young girls not to get married before finishing your education,” Akuol Chuang said, as the pensive audience listened in utter silence. “Stop being in a hurry to grow up. Focus on your education today for a better tomorrow,” she said, urging the students to make the most of their youth.
Her counterpart from the Ministry of Education, Peter Kuol Awan, supported her sentiments “You can make it,” he said. “Twenty or thirty years from now, among you will be a president. This is your land. You have all the privileges. You can be president,” he concluded, invoking the highest title in the land.
Malakal has suffered devastation as an epicenter of the protracted conflict in South Sudan. Most schools in the region only reopened late last year, with the support of non-governmental organizations. Only two secondary schools are currently operational in the town. An entrant from a secondary school in the Malakal protection of civilians’ site, Oliny Buwad Yowin came third, while John Juma David, who will proceed to the national finals in Juba in May, wrote the winning entry.
Acting Head of Field Office for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Christian Stephane Mikala was impressed by the young students who, despite limited access to a good education due to conflict, had written good essays expressing their emotions, feelings and ideas.
“This message for building peace is for all of you and should resonate with each one of us,” he said. “We have to listen to these young people. We have to give them a chance to live in peace, in harmony and give them opportunities to enjoy their great nation and their fundamental freedoms set out in the South Sudan constitution.”
The award ceremony in Malakal is one of several others around the country, as the competition launched by UNMISS on the 8 March – the International Women’s Day – seeks to find the national champion writing under the theme: “How can women contribute to durable peace in South Sudan?”