“It’s very important that a school has walls and a roof”, say refugee children in South Sudan

Approximately 1,200 children and youth are studying in a primary school called Mät Academy in South Sudan. The school was built by Finn Church Aid (FCA). An estimated 70% of the pupils are refugees who have fled fighting in the surrounding regions. Many have never gone to school in a school building; some have not gone to school at all.

  • Nyandeng Deng Majeu, age 7, 1st grade
    “I’m from Bor, and I came here with my parents, my sister and my three brothers. I like learning, the teachers and everything. Now, I would like to learn to write.”

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  • Beng Kur Luetti, age 13, 4th grade
    “In Bor you never knew when the fighting would start. That’s why it was scary to go to school. My family and I came here two years ago. We feel good here. I want to get an education so I can speak English. My favourite subjects are English and history. History helps me understand my country and my region better. I would like to become a doctor so I could help others.”

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  • Monica Kuir Atenz, age 18, 8th grade
    “I fled fighting in Bor here to Mingaman with my parents and five siblings. The Nuer were fighting other tribes there and we were in constant danger. Now we have been here in Mingkaman for two years. It was wonderful to get to school immediately after arriving here. I went to look at the school and immediately saw it was safe. I started school right away.

    “My favourite subject is English. If you can’t talk to people, you can’t express yourself and you can’t work at an office, for example. I would like to work as a nurse myself. Then I could even save someone’s life. I could also improve my health and the health of my family members.”

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  • Isaiah Aluong Chol, age 18, 6th grade
    “I’m just coming from an English exam. Here, we do exams sitting by a desk in a classroom. Back in Bor, we just sat under a tree and we didn’t have a school building. It’s very important that a school has walls and a roof. It makes you feel safe.
    I like maths and history. When you know maths, you can work with statistics and count. Statistics are important at the university, for example. History is important to understand your country and the causes of war. In the future, I would like to work in government. I would like to make sure that we have schools and roads. Good government is the key to everything. I want to stay here and build our country and encourage people to go to school and build peace.”

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  • Kuot Amer Igor, age 8, 1st grade
    “I like school. I’m now learning to write, I can’t write yet. My family and I came here from Bor last year.”

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  • Ajak Magoe, age 36, Headmaster at the Mät Academy
    “Members of some tribes don’t want to send their children to school. On my spare time I go around the villages talking about the importance of school and ask that the children be allowed to come study. I know this region well. I hope I could get a bicycle to do that more efficiently.”

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Most refugees arriving in Mingkaman come from the town of Bor which is only a few hours away upriver. At the turn of the year, new refugees arrived at a rate of as much as 5,000 a week.

The name of the school, Mät, comes from the local tribal language and means unity. From the beginning, the school has been designed to allow access to both local and refugee pupils. Care is taken at the school to help local children and refugee children form friendships.

“Our message to the students is that the war is not here. If you hurt someone, you will apologise”, says Ajak Magoe, the 36-year-old headmaster of the school.

Magoe says that initially, at the turn of the year 2014–2015, fights sometimes broke out in class. Now the atmosphere is peaceful. It is very rare to hear a local child ask a refugee: “Why did you come here to our region?”

People fleeing from Bor usually have very few possessions with them. Some families sleep under the trees without any additional shelter. A free education is important because many families couldn’t afford to pay school fees, even small ones, not to mention school uniforms.

“When the fighting broke out, many children were terrified. Here, they felt like outsiders. When a school was built for these children, it made them feel important again. Now they trust the school and feel safe here. That’s why they also want to learn”, headmaster Magoe says.

“My students have plenty of ambition. Many hope to become doctors or teachers, but unfortunately it’s very probable that many will stay home after finishing this school. There is no high school here, or other possibilities for further education. Many girls become mothers at a very young age.”

Despite all this Magoe is hopeful.

“Being a teacher is my calling. These children are like my own. I believe they may yet become something great and I’m proud of that.”

The Mät Academy has been constructed with support from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

Text: Satu Helin
Photos: Ville Palonen