UNMISS helps children move from lessons under ancient trees to brand new classrooms in Western Equatoria
Under the branches of an ancient tree in Bazumburu, children gather together, excited and eager to hear the wise words of their teacher. Their only option for education is to attend lessons held out in the open air because their classrooms were destroyed during the conflict in South Sudan.
Whether it is under the sweltering sun in the dry season or heavy downpours during the seasonal rains, the children turn up, day after day, for these outdoor lessons, desperate for the opportunity to learn.
Peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan were moved by the plight of these children as they carried out their regular patrols and were inspired to build them schools so they have the opportunity to grow and reach their full potential.
It is also part of the Mission’s work to protect civilians and help build peace in the country which is struggling to recover from years of civil war.
“We saw the dedication and the commitment of the children, as well as the teachers, each time we were passing,” said Tahiru Ibrahim, Relief, Reintegration and Protection Officer for the UNMISS Field Office in Yambio.” “We also realized that most of the children and parents had returned to the area as internally displaced people, so we decided to interact with the community and see how we could help.”
These communities suffered terribly during the crisis in South Sudan - forced to leave their homes to find sanctuary together. With the relative calm since the signing of the 2018 peace deal, life is slowly getting back to normal, although the challenge of finding accommodation for schooling remains.
UNMISS decided to help by using what is called a Quick Impact Project to build the new classroom blocks and latrines in Sakure and Bazumburu to improve access to education.
“South Sudan is in situation of armed conflict, but we always said: “let us give the child a pen and a book instead of giving the child bullets and guns,” stressed Moses Baggari, UNMISS Child Protection Assistant.
The local community tirelessly joined the construction effort in the hope the new structures would provide relief for the children from the extreme weather conditions as well as improve their quality of learning.
“Previously when it rained, we closed the school and children were sent home. But now we are very happy because these newly built classes will give our children a better learning environment,” said Bazumburu resident, Mary Sebit.
It will also enable the children to concentrate more on studies, as opposed to out-door learning, when passers-by would interrupt while crisscrossing through the compound.
Joseph Aguto, the county education director at Bazumburu, says it is not just the children who will benefit.
“This is a community school apart from education. We can even host some government activities here,” he said. “The structure is therefore beneficial both for education and for community activities.”
School enrolment had previously subsided because of the lack of educational infrastructure in the area. The new classrooms should turn this around by increasing the number of students once the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
While challenges remain for both schools to overcome, including building fencing, additional classroom blocks, and waterpoints, the new structure is hugely important for the community as a small step towards increasing literacy and, ultimately, employment opportunities for youth.
For UNMISS, the project is about building durable peace for the sake of this generation as well as generations to come.
“We are committed to continuing to support the people of South Sudan in their search for durable peace, but also in their quest to enhance social and economic wellbeing,” said Tahiru Ibrahim, the coordination officer for the UNMISS Relief, Reintegration and Protection team in Yambio.