From the Field: Researchers Find Education At Risk in South Sudan

April 21, 2012

Nuba children take shelter from the sun at South Sudan's isolated Pariang refugee camp. © Pete Muller

Amnesty International is currently on a research mission in Sudan. This post is part of a series.

Pariang refugee camp, South Sudan – 17 April 2012

Pariang refugee camp lies in a desolate part of South Sudan, an hour’s drive from Yida, where more than 1,900 secondary school students from Southern Kordofan have come to continue their schooling.

Education is highly valued amongst the Nuba population of Southern Kordofan. Most students travelled to Pariang unaccompanied, leaving their families behind in conflict-torn Southern Kordofan, where the constant drone of Antonov aircraft – driving home the threat of aerial bombardment – forced many schools to close.

We travelled to Pariang with Louza Omar, an 18-year-old girl from Kauda in Southern Kordofan, who had spent the weekend in Yida visiting friends. She first came to Pariang on 29 February.

“I was to leave [Kauda] since December. My father is very old and had a lot of cattle but the bombing killed the cattle, so he was unable to send me here. My father wasn’t going to allow me to come, but I spoke to him about the importance of education,” Louza told us.

When we arrived in Pariang today however, we learned that the school had been closed on Monday and would not reopen for at least two weeks. The school, which the refugees from Southern Kordofan had been temporarily allowed to use, was handed back to the host community on Monday, marking the end of a three-month agreement they had reached over its use.

As water is in short supply at the camp, young people are forced to line up for hours before school to fetch water for the day's use. © Pete Muller

NGOs had promised to build five new schools for the refugee population, but to date, only one structure has been erected, with no benches or educational materials. Plans to build dormitories for students were also under way, but the increasing tensions along the border between Sudan and South Sudan mean that NGOs have withdrawn their staff from Pariang, and construction has come to a halt.

While a large number of the students are over 18 years old, they are a vulnerable population, separated from their families and support systems. Girls and boys sleep in separate sections of the camp, four students to a tent, lying on the floor amid sweltering heat.

Many of the young people at Pariang are separated from their families and support systems. © Pete Muller

Shortages of water in the camp mean that students have to wake up at 4am and line up for three hours to collect water for the day’s use, including bathing. The girls’ section has three flimsy showering areas, and three latrines exposed to the elements, which they wait patiently to use, before going to school.

On weekends, students collect firewood together. “We go at 4am on weekends to collect firewood from 4am to 9am. It is very far. In the wet season we will really be suffering. We need help with charcoal,” Louza added.

The refugee camp’s head teacher expressed other concerns, including the poor quality of education available and the shortage of teachers. The newly independent South Sudan has yet to produce secondary school textbooks, and students are learning from Sudanese textbooks, which the tireless teachers have translated from Arabic into English.

With the rainy season looming, it remains uncertain whether the refugees will be able to continue with their so highly prized education.

Louza and her fellow students are unsure of how to deal with the school’s closure.

“There is nothing to do here; I don’t know what to do. I may go back to Yida or to Nuba [Southern Kordofan]. I am very worried about my parents, and scared they will be bombed by Antonovs,” she said.

By Khairunissa Dhala, Amnesty International’s South Sudan Researcher and Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.