8 May 2014 - Fighting and heavy rains are the biggest disruption to hundreds of displaced children attending primary school at the UNMISS base in Bentiu, Unity State capital, a UNICEF official said recently.
Luel Deng Ding, an education officer with the UN’s children’s agency said there was a significant increase in the number of children registered at the emergency school since it opened in February, but recent fighting had taken a serious toll on pupil attendance.
“We had more than 700 children on the roll and we supplied them with the necessary learning materials,” said Mr. Deng. “That number has dropped by 29 per cent since recent fighting in mid-April (and) heavy rain makes matters worse as children don’t come to school.”
UNICEF and partner organization Mercy Corps run the school and provide stipends and training for the school’s volunteer teachers.
“We have trained them in life skills and messaging, teacher conduct and regulations,” Mr. Deng said. “We hope this will help them understand what is required.”
The tents which house the school each have three to four classes going on at the same time. With no furniture, the children have to sit on a plastic sheet, which has mud all over it.
Yet, John Amba, a professional teacher and head of the school is proud to be part of a team that is giving the displaced children education in a very challenging environment.
“I am happy to do this,” he said. “My inspiration comes from the fact that without education, these kids will have no future.”
Mr. Amba, who earns about 40 South Sudanese Pounds a day (a little over ten dollars), feels that the physical challenges have not been such a hinderance as the war that placed them in this situation themselves, and the rains.
“When it rains, they [the pupils] don’t come,” he said. “When they hear the gunshots, they all run home.” UNICEF says they have launched a campaign dubbed “Go to School” to encourage more parents to send their children to school.
Martha Nyakouth, a mother of five whose husband’s whereabouts are unknown, has responded to that call and has registered four of her children at the emergency school. She is happy that her children have a chance at education despite the conflict.
“I know they are safe in the camp and I have no reason to keep them at home,” she said. “Sending them to school is the best thing to do.”
UNICEF says they will have to continue working towards working to improve conditions at the school to make it more conducive for the children.
“We just have to do this for as long as the violence continues,” said Mr. Deng.