Nearly 1,000 internally displaced children attend Kuku 'A' primary school in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan. Most of these children have returned with their families from neighboring countries or other parts of Sudan, since a peace agreement was signed in 2005 ending more than two decades of war between the north and the south. Their expectations for a good education and bright future are high. But, resources are few and schools like Kuku lack the money, teachers, facilities and material to provide a quality education. Lisa Schlein recently visited the school and has this report for VOA.
Boys and girls wearing crisp green and white uniforms welcome visitors to their school. Reverand Samuel Issa Durba says the Juba government believes every child should be able to go to school. But, he notes there is no money to buy supplies or to renovate schools.
"And we need the same schools to be expanded, so that we are able to take more students. We continue to receive returnees coming from neighboring countries…18…We actually need support of the U.N., support from the NGO's [non-governmental organizations] in the field of education," said Durba.
More than 930 pupils attend the school, almost equally divided between boys and girls. Classes are overcrowded, with the largest having 132 pupils. Few classrooms have been built. So, most schooling takes place under trees. Inside the overcrowded classrooms, there are few desks, so most children sit on the floor. Children share the few available textbooks.
The headmaster of Kuku Primary School, Reverand Simago Erasto, says most of these children are internally displaced people or children of people who formerly lived in Juba. And, this sets up a whole series of other problems.
"Some of these children have lost their parents as a result of the war. Others have lost their parents as a result of HIV / AIDS and they need support," said Erasto. "Currently, there are few organizations supporting orphaned children as a result of the war and HIV / AIDS."
We visit a classroom, packed with children who grow quiet as we enter. Each child is holding a bowl of food, slowly and methodically moving his or her spoon around. Erasto tells me it is lunchtime.
"This is primary four class and they are taking their meal for this day," he said. "One problem is the meal they get here is what sustains them. When they go home, they do not find food."
"Currently, we have all the pupils in Kuku A school enrolled into a school feeding program, which is 938 kids," added Urszula Swierczynska, World Food Program officer in Juba. "We feed them on a daily basis, which means every school day. Every day they come to school, they are fed twice a day. They receive a hot meal which is cooked at school."
Swierczynska says the WFP has been conducting this school-feeding program since 2001. She says many of the children are malnourished because they do not get enough to eat at home. She says the feeding program acts as an incentive for parents to send their children to school.
"There are very clear statistics showing, proving that at least the school attendance has risen substantially since we have introduced the school feeding program here in Juba and all over south Sudan," she continued. "We have been covering almost 700 schools within south Sudan as a WFP program. Here in Juba, we have 232 schools."
The children are energized by their meal. A few are willing to talk about their plans for the future.
"I am in P-4. My name is Nancy Boso…Nancy Boso."
Nancy Boso is in grade four. She says she likes English best and one day would like to work in the ministry, when she finishes school.
"I want to work…work to help the old people," she said.
Ten-year old Samson is interested in the healing arts. He says he would like to become a doctor, one day, so he can help people. And, then there is 13-year old Tamiro. She and her family returned to Sudan, last year, from a refugee camp in Uganda, with the help of the United Nations. She says she is happy to be back and enjoys school.
"I like English. I want to be a nurse," said Tamiro.
Southern Sudan is emerging from 22 years of war. Throughout this period, teacher training was practically non-existent. United Nations Children's Fund Spokesman, Swangin Bismark says there are not enough qualified teachers for the increasing number of children who are going back to school.
"That is why UNICEF is conducting a training of more teachers through its partners…to be able to provide intensive English training to teachers who can serve these children and can provide quality education," said Bismark.
After so many years of war, aid agencies working in the region agree education is the greatest gift that can be given a child in southern Sudan. They note refugees are reluctant to return home to areas where there is no education. They say refugees understand education is the way out of poverty and misery.