Against all Odds, South Sudanese Refugees find a way to access education

By Amanda Westfall

On 19 December, 2017, Nyawal John, a South Sudanese 17-year-old girl says that her goal in life is to be educated. After escaping conflict in her village in South Sudan, she is doing whatever it takes to access education in Ethiopia.

Their villages are ravaged as they flee conflict and leave family, livelihoods and education behind. They travel for months, sometimes without food, water, or shelter, to arrive in a new country that offers the basic services required for survival. But when the South Sudanese people spend year after year waiting for the conflict in their country to subside, the time keeps ticking on their education.

Nyawal John, 17, who arrived in Tsore Refugee camp in Benishangul-Gumuz, Ethiopia two years ago, has gone almost three years without formal education. As a young teen, she had to leave almost everything behind in South Sudan – even her parents, who she hasn’t heard from since fleeing, not knowing if they are alive today or not.

Tsore Refugee Settlement offers pre-primary and primary school, but unfortunately, there is currently no secondary school available for Nyawal who says that she should be attending 9th grade right now.

But this did not stop Nyawal in her ambitions for education. She first started working as a translator at the camp health centre. However, she felt detached from education so decided to be a teacher in the camp’s pre-primary school, which is where she is currently working.

At the school, she teaches a total of 85 four-year-old children each day where she is exposed to new UNICEF-supported teaching and learning materials and capacity building programmes. She is able to use the various skills and materials to improve her teaching and also help her gain new knowledge for her own educational growth.

The main thing Nyawal wants right now is to learn. “I need to get knowledge. In the future what I want is to finish my education … If there is a place in my country for this I will be there. But iff it is here, I will be here.”

Nyawal dreams of being a computer scientist one day. When she was a young teenager in South Sudan, her father bought her a computer from Rwanda, which she cherished and managed to carry with her as she fled to Ethiopia. Unfortunately, because of financial needs she had to sell it once she arrived. Still, she has managed to continue practising by going to Tsore’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs office weekly to use their computers.

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Education for Refugee and Host Community Children in Tsore Zone pre school Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia Tsore Zone A Pre School, Assosa. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

From site to site in the camp there is an ardent yearn for education. Kemal Olika, an Ethiopian teacher in the refugee primary school in the camp says it best, “Without any training and just by their confidence, they [refugee teachers] still teach and strive for education. I appreciate them. Even the [refugee] students’ respect is very high. South Sudanese respect the teachers. They listen. They really want to learn.”

At the settlement, UNICEF supports the refugee children’s aspirations for education. Through an integration programme with the host-Ethiopian communities, UNICEF supports teacher training programmes and extra-curricular activities including; materials and equipment for sport, play and learning – so that refugees can benefit from their host country’s education system. In addition, UNICEF supports the construction of new classrooms to ease the congestion in schools and advocates for construction of secondary schools for older students, like Nyawal.

When forced away from everything she knows – her home, parents, schooling, and cherished computer – against all the odds, Nyawal continues to strive for education.

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