BY DENIS LOURO
"I want to be a doctor," beams an optimistic nine-year old Justin.
He is among 70 other South Sudanese children who have recently retuned home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and have been keeping busy through an informal education system, set up since their return to their village in Ezo.
For now, the students must make do with learning under trees, as the classrooms in Ezo were destroyed when they fled the conflict in 2016.
To get to the students, their teacher, 39-year-old Inyasio Akile, has to cycle three hours to ensure the lessons go on. He does this daily, with no pay.
"These are our children and we will continue teaching them even without money," says Akile, who is grateful that the children are dedicated, having understood that an education is important for the fruition of their dreams.
After hearing about the peace process in South Sudan, Akile decided to abandon his refugee life and return to Ezo.
"It is our country. Remaining in Congo [DRC] was difficult for us, because the situation there was a bit tough. That is why we came back to open a school and teach our children," recounted the teacher, to an assessment team from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which visited the area, witnessing firsthand the challenges that returning communities were grappling with.
Victoria Emilio, a mother of seven, had been monitoring the situation in South Sudan through regular radio broadcasts. Understanding that access to schools back home would be problematic, she returned with some of her children, leaving others in the DRC.
"We came back because we heard that the peace process was going on well. We felt happy because home is home, that's why we decided to come back," said Emilio.
"Education is one of the key drivers for development. It's also a key driver for peace. The more knowledge people have, the more they are likely to engage in peaceful and constructive activities," said UNMISS Head of Field Office in Yambio, Christopher Muchiri Murenga, while visiting the informal learning set-up in the area.
These returnees are a part of a steady stream who have been spontaneously making their way home following the signing of South Sudan's revitalized peace agreement in September 2018. The resultant ceasefire has largely held, returning calm to many parts of the country.
Citing their dire situation, an official from the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC), which monitors and registers returns, pled on their behalf for assistance.
"They still face problems of food, shelter and other things that can sustain human beings," said Siani Martin the Commission's Coordinator, adding that the returnees are temporarily living with relatives and host communities, and are yet to resettle in their original homes.
With a pre-transitional period before the formation of a unity government extended by 100 days from 12 November, many of these returnees are hoping that peace will prevail, and that their urgent needs will be addressed.
At least seven spontaneous returnees cross into South Sudan from the DRC, weekly, at the Ezo border crossing. They must undergo medical screening for Ebola, and then be registered.
So far, a total of 1,251 households have been recorded in Ezo town.