Amid Conflict and Displacement, South Sudan Student Hungers to Learn

Speeches Shim

Nyaradio Gatkuoth at the UN Protection of Civilians site in Juba, which houses nearly 28,000 people displaced by conflict
Nyaradio Gatkuoth at the U.N. Protection of Civilians site in Juba, which houses nearly 28,000 displaced people.
Victor Lugala, USAID
Schools at U.N. Protection of Civilians sites offer hope
“When a girl is educated, she will get a job and she will be independent.”

March 2016—South Sudan now has more children not attending school than any other country, according to the United Nations—1.8 million children aged 6 to 15.

More than half of all primary school-aged children are unable to attend school due to conflict or never had the chance to attend, according to UNICEF. Since a political crisis erupted into civil war in December 2013, more than 800 schools have been demolished, and more than 400,000 children have had to abandon their studies.

When the 2013 civil war erupted, Nyaradio Gatkuoth was 15 years old. She has been living with her parents and four siblings for more than two years in a Protection of Civilians (PoC) site at the United Nations compound in Juba, where thousands of people fled to safety when a political crisis turned violent, and soldiers slaughtered civilians in the capital.

The third in a family of five children, Nyaradio says her oldest brother, who was 23 when the fighting erupted, “disappeared” during the first week of the crisis. The family believes he might have been killed, as were dozens of ethnic Nuer in Juba in the earliest days of the conflict.

Nyaradio says living in the PoC site is “like a prison” because she never leaves the site, but school makes her happy. “We study, sing, dance, play volleyball, netball, and forget about our problems,” she says.

She has completed grade 8 at Hope Primary School at the PoC site, which is run by UNICEF and supported by USAID, and is waiting to join secondary school this year.

“Nyaradio joined primary school late at age 10 because of lack of school fees,” explains her father, Peter Gatkuoth, a policeman, adding that “education is good for the future of my daughter. When she finishes school, she will assist her siblings, her future husband, and the government.” He says that sometimes he goes to town when he feels secure.

“I want to study up to university. I want to be a journalist one day,” says the ambitious Nyaradio, who expresses admiration for female radio announcers.

Nyaradio, whose name originates from her mother’s frequent radio listening while pregnant, counts herself as lucky in an environment where poverty has pushed many adolescent girls into early marriage. Some girls are forced by their parents into marriage to fetch a bride price, which may be paid in cash or livestock.

“When a young man approaches me for marriage, I’ll tell him to wait until I finish school,” says Nyaradio. “School is important for girls. When girls finish school, they will have a better life in the future than a village girl who didn’t go to school. When a girl is educated, she will get a job and she will be independent.” She adds that she doesn’t want to be a minority in a class full of boys.

Nyaradio is hoping for lasting peace to be realized in South Sudan “so that I can continue with my school without interruption.”

As part of the Back to Learning initiative, USAID support has helped UNICEF to enroll nearly 130,000 South Sudanese children and adolescents in school, including recently demobilized child soldiers, and to establish 629 temporary learning spaces in six states (Lakes, Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile, Central Equatoria and Eastern Equatoria) since the civil war began.


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