Frontline Stories

Starting a School from Scratch

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By Lisi Emmanuel Alex

49-year-old Kenyi is a South Sudanese who was working as an aid monitor in Khartoum, Sudan, helping returnees go back to South Sudan after it gained independence in July 2011. At that time, expectations were very high and everyone who once fled for safety in other countries wanted to return home.

Many have been away for decades and were excited to be part of the new era. After a time helping others, Kenyi decided to join the throng of returnees.

When fighting followed in 2013, some of these returnees got stranded in the outskirts of Renk County in the northeast. They temporarily stayed in the area, hoping to proceed with the journey once everything calmed down.

In 2014, many children of the returnees were just roaming around the camps for the displaced. They had nothing to do and many of the families could not afford to send them to school. Kenyi, who was then working for an aid agency, decided to quit his job, use his separation pay and started a primary school in one of the oldest and unused structures in the area.

“I just thought about the future of the children in the camp and came up with the decision to leave work and start a school. I registered children aged five and above and started primary 1 to 3 with a total of 144 students,” shares Kenyi. He was unable to provide textbooks and school materials but was optimistic that people would come and help the children.

He used the three dilapidated rooms of the building for the classes and set up his office under a tree nearby. It was difficult for him to control all the children in three different classrooms because he was alone. “I have to lock the rooms when I move to the other classroom to keep the children from straying outside and going somewhere,” he recalls.

In 2017, World Vision started supporting the school. “I am very grateful to World Vision because they did exactly what we had been discussing. Two classrooms were constructed, the scholastic materials and books were provided. World Vision also gave incentives to the teachers and sent them for training,” he adds.

“Education is key to everything in life. It can bring development, change the mind-set and encourage co-existence among tribes and people with different beliefs.” Kenyi and his family fled to Uganda as refugees in the early 1970s and that was where he studied as a child.

Despite having to drop out in his fourth year of secondary education due to financial difficulties, he always dreams to study and learn more.

As a teacher, absenteeism was his biggest challenge. When the children felt hungry, they would go home and never come back. This problem was addressed when World Vision started a feeding programme at the school. The number of students enrolled rose to 306 with an encouraging class attendance.

This year, the school has added primary 6 for both displaced children and the host community. “I expect the school population to increase with the introduction of the feeding programme,“ says Kenyi, adding that his dream is to be able to go for further studies.

World Vision’s project coordinator Emmanuel says the school still faces a lot of challenges. “Most of the teachers are volunteers and we give them government-standardised stipends. If they find better-paying jobs, they can leave anytime,” he says.

World Vision supports more than 13,000 children, aged between 3 and 18 years old, in 26 schools in Renk and Manyo Counties. The project includes providing incentives to voluntary teachers and facilitators, rehabilitation and construction of classroom structures, distribution of education supplies to the students, training for teachers and stakeholders and implementation of back-to-learning campaign.

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