Education is key as Sudan moves to ‘culture of peace’

Published May 1, 2008

Ondo Rukia Rajab (left) and Abale John Stephen are teachers at the Wulu Primary School.

Rumbek, Sudan
Sudan appears to be a country in waiting.

Waiting for a crucial census that will clarify for the first time since 1993 the population figures in the north and the semi-autonomous south Sudan.

Waiting for elections in 2009.

Waiting for a critical referendum in 2011 that will allow the people of the 10 states of south Sudan to vote on the question of self-determination from the Khartoum-based north.

But, after a 21-year civil war that crippled much of the nation’s infrastructure, and an increasingly shaky peace agreement signed in 2005, Sudanese people, especially those in the south, are also waiting for more basic, essential things: water, healthcare, roads, schools.

Many of these fundamentals depend on the findings of the census, which is considered crucial to confirm or reconfigure the sharing of power, wealth and resources between the former warring north and south. Scheduled for April 15 to 30, the census asked about numbers of people living in each residence, their nationality and regional grouping (Northern Sudanese, Southern Sudanese or non-Sudanese). It also queried residents about their literacy and educational level. The two decades of war interrupted the education of many Sudanese, so illiteracy is high and many skills and trades were lost (two million died in the war and a further four million people were displaced).

Education must start somewhere.

In the village of Wulu, near Rumbek, the church is doing its part. Last year, Church Ecumenical Action Sudan (a partner of Action by Churches Together, or ACT International) and the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) last year opened the county’s only girls’ primary school. There, six teachers are responsible for 170 children, ages 4-19 (some older girls are catching up after missing out on school during the war). While the ratio of teacher to students is challenging, the administrators are grateful that at least they now have a school building – they used to teach under a nearby tree.

“It was difficult teaching under the tree,” said Abale John Stephen, head teacher at the school. The children would be distracted both by the rain (the school year begins in the rainy season, in April) and passers-by. He and his colleague, Ondo Rukia Rajab, persevere with their vocation despite challenges presented by a government in transition that failed to pay their salaries for some four months last year. CEAS pays bonuses to teachers to help supplement their government salaries.

Anne Opiyo, a CEAS program officer in Wulu, said it is important to begin building the skills of Sudanese, and especially to get youth and women involved in food and agriculture projects. “I appeal to the churches to improve the situation of women so that their capacity is built,” said Ms. Opiyo. “That way, they will be in a position to catch up with life.”

Rev. Ezekial Thiand, educational co-ordinator of the ECS diocese of Cueibet, added that the church must educate the people about peace. “You can’t call an angry community to listen to you,” he said. Youth, in particular, are still violent three years after the peace agreement was signed.

Rev. Venance Karobo, a Roman Catholic priest from Uganda who is working in Wulu, said Sudan is in transition from a culture of violence to a culture of peace and education is critical: “We know that through education, one is transformed mentally and psychologically,” he said. The country must be rehabilitated “mentally and morally,” he added. “This country has a lot of potential, but it is lacking the human resources.”


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