In South Sudan, a massive push is underway to bring the chance to learn to more than half a million out-of-school children. This young country has the lowest rate of school attendance in the world — just 51 percent of primary and lower secondary children attend classes. A conflict which began in 2013 has made the situation even worse. More than 900,000 children have been displaced by the fighting, 400,000 of them forced to stop going to school. Back to Learning is a UNICEF-supported initiative to provide an education to some of South Sudan’s most vulnerable children — both those uprooted by violence and those who have never entered a classroom.
Malual Stephen, 16, at the Hope Primary School in UN protection of civilians site in Juba.
“When the fighting started I was in my house in and heard the bullets. We went into the streets to run to the UN base in Bentiu. When the fighting became a bit calm I came to meet my uncle and aunt here in Juba. My parents are still in the village. I haven’t seen them now for three years. When I was in Bentiu I was happy with school and playing, but now my parents aren’t here and I’m not happy like before. I have been at this school for two years. My school was good in Bentiu, but here it is very crowded.”
Nyawargakna Kuol, 16, at the Hope Primary School in UN protection of civilians site in Juba.
“We were living in Yei before the crisis. We were told that it was not safe because our house was near the military barracks. I used to go to school in Yei. The school there was better, the teachers were good, and we had good uniforms. Here, I like religious studies because when I feel angry it helps me to release my problems. I like to come to school because I know that when you are educated you can help yourself and get good work. I hope that peace will come to the country.”
James Jidit Matai, 14, at the Hope Primary School in the UN protection of civilians site in Juba.
“I live in the camp with my uncle. I was home in Mankien with my parents when the fighting started. The school here is better than the one back home. The teachers are good. I like science and religion, and I would like to become a teacher of science. I would like to teach back in Mankien. School teaches you good things, and will help us to do go things for the people.”
Nyaturo Diew, 11, at the Dawa Primary School in Bentiu town.
“I spent one year without school because of the fighting. I was just doing nothing, and I missed school. I wanted to go back, but the school had been destroyed. I like to learn English the most out of all the things that I am learning. I would like to work in a hospital when I grow up. I want my home to return to the way it was before, when people used to go to school and when there was peace.”
Haj Abdullah Kuol, 10, at the Dawa Primary School in Bentiu town.
“I was living in Bentiu with my father, mother, and sister before the fighting. Now most of my family is in the UN base. One day, my father said let’s go to town together, where he works in the mosque. We have been back in town for many months now. I went to school while I was in the UN base, and it was ok there.”
Nyaguandea Gadiet, 11, at the Dawa Primary School in Bentiu town.
“I was at home in Bentiu when the fighting started. My mother, father and five siblings, we all went to live at the UN base. We went back to our house but most of it had been destroyed. We sleep in the remaining part of the house now. School was better before the fighting.”
Nyanhial Gatbel, 7, and her older brother Ruay Pey, 13, at the Dawa Primary School in Bentiu town.
“There was a lot of fighting and a lot of shooting. Our cousin was killed when she was caught in a crossfire. We were very afraid. There was a person in the market with a car and they drove our family to the UN base. Now we are living in the same neighborhood as before, but we stay at another house because ours was destroyed. When I grow up I want to become a leader, maybe a minister, so that I can bring things to the people, things that are missing, like lights.”
Khamisa John, 14, at the A Primary School in Bentiu town.
“The school at the UN base was very crowded, but this school is better, there are not so many people in the classes. When I grow up and finish my education I want to help with the development of my country and encourage all the people to go to school. Education is good because you can get knowledge that allows you to help your family, you can even bring your family out of poverty.”
Changkuoth Bayak, 18, at the Naath Primary School in the UN protection of civilians site in Bentiu.
“I remember that I was eating okra with my brother when the fighting started. I heard bullets, I heard fighting and crying, I didn’t know what was happening. We ran away because at that time we didn’t know that we could come to the UN base. When we heard that people were coming here, and that there was education, then I came. If we want South Sudan to be a good country then we need to have forgiveness. The conflict has been enough, we need to forgive each other. If we can do that and educate our people, then the country can develop.”
Tabitha Nyapuop, 12, at the Naath Primary School in the UN protection of civilians site in Bentiu.
“I came here with my mother and my brother a year ago because of the fighting. I don’t know where my father is now. I was going to school before the conflict but then I stopped. I was not in school for almost two years. My favorite subject now is science because I want to teach children. I want to teach people to be clean and healthy so they will not become sick. I like this school, because the fighting has destroyed the school at home. I want to be an educated girl, because my mother is not educated.”
Learn more about UNICEF’s work in South Sudan.