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