South Sudan: More than school buildings

 

2010 students in Ulang displaying their report cards

Students in Ulang, one of Food for the Hungry’s South Sudan work zones, displaying their report cards. This was taken in 2010 in times when schools were still open.

Reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and … land mine awareness?

The words jumped off the page as I explored the description of the new Food for the Hungry (FH) UNICEF-funded emergency education program in South Sudan. Mine awareness – teaching kids to avoid land mines, or what to do if you find one – is just part of the daily job for teachers in this war-torn land.

In this new program, FH will provide temporary school buildings to more than 26,000 South Sudanese students in the coming months, staffed by volunteer teachers. Schools in FH’s work zone have been either destroyed or taken over by soldiers, or by families with nowhere else to live. Teachers abandoned their posts months ago when they failed to receive pay.

More than bricks and mortar

As financial supporters, we often focus on the buildings. But I’m more aware then ever, as I talk about South Sudan, that the buildings are the tip of the iceberg.

Children who aren’t in school find other ways to occupy their time. Being a child soldier becomes an attractive option. Girls who aren’t in school are more likely to become child brides. Sexual and economic exploitation abound when there aren’t any schools.

And when kids break off their education, it’s hard to resume the habit. For many children, this is the end of the road. They’ll be permanent dropouts.

So FH’s new schools will find qualified teachers and provide their classrooms with school supplies and teaching materials. But the teachers will also learn how to work with children who are suffering from hunger and war. They’ll teach them “emergency life skills” – how do you thrive in a world gone crazy?

Teachers will also help run “child friendly spaces,” after school programs that give children a safe place to play games and learn lessons in health, hygiene and other key areas.  Playtime gives teachers another opportunity to spot children with emotional or physical issues as well.

A human fence

FH’s plan calls for fences around the schoolyard, to keep the children safe inside and keep out livestock and ne’er-do-wells who prey on vulnerable children. But realize that the main fence is a human one – the teachers and other community leaders who watch for signs of distress, or take notice when a child is missing. They’re the ones who train about practicing good hygiene, to prevent disease. The human beings are the ones whose very presence says to a child every day, “You are valuable. God knows who you are and so do I. You are not forgotten.”

Please join us in praying for these adults whom God will identify for us, willing to sacrifice time to help their community. Please pray for the children of South Sudan who have no schools and no future. Consider a financial gift as well to our work in South Sudan.