No conflict can quench: Two girls’ dreams live on in South Sudan’s Dengtoma IDP camps

August 20, 2018

Sarah believes girls should go out of their homes and do what they want. "The world has changed. We need to be educated to survive."

When the fighting raged in South Sudan’s Baliet County on 2013, thousands of people fled for safety walking for weeks, some for a month, leaving everything they owned. Their houses burned to the ground, there was nothing to look back for. Majority of them ended up in two Dengtoma internally-displaced people's (IDP) camps in Melut County in Upper Nile State.

Among these people were the families of Sarah and Lucia. They lost everything but full of hope, they started rebuilding together in Dengtoma camps. Sarah, now 28 years old, got married to Chol when she was 16 years old. She now has four children. Asked if she willingly agreed on her parents’ decision to marry her to someone 12 years older, she said it was normal in her community.

“As soon as you have your period, you are arranged for marriage. I just follow what my parents tell me to do because I respect them,” Sarah says smiling. Fortunately, she found a responsible man in Chol. When World Vision set up 13 schools in the two camps, Sarah’s dream to study was revived.

She says, “I started seeing children go to school everyday and I got inspired. I told Chol I want to study and achieve something in my life. I believe that if I get educated, I will get more opportunities and will be able to help my family.” Chol was then working with another non-government organization and supported her. Sarah is now on secondary school and dreams of becoming a doctor.

Now a mother of four, Sarah is glad to be back in school with her husband's support. "I want to be a doctor."

She goes to school from 2:00-6:00 in the afternoon while Chol takes care of the children. “The world has changed. Women should be educated to survive. If I become a doctor, I will learn how to treat diseases affecting my family and community”, Sarah adds. To make sure she does not neglect her duties at home, she gets up early and cook for meals of the day. “From morning to evening, I have already prepared everything in the house so I can go to school without worrying for my family,” she shares.

Sarah is among the top achievers in her class as well as the elected head girl. “Women should not come second to men. We must come out of our houses and continue learning”, she says. Sarah said she encourages all the girls she talks to in the camp to go back to school.

Lucia, 18, was not that lucky like Sarah. She got pregnant at 18 and was hastily married to Adong, seven years older than her. “I had a terrible experience sleeping outside of his parents’ house because he does not own anything. He was irresponsible and did not provide for us,” Lucia shares her ordeal. Together with her 1-year old baby, she went home to her parents who encouraged her to go back to school.

“My family's life was good before the fighting happened. Now everything is difficult that is why I decided to study. I want to be a doctor, too. If I am educated I can have the things I wanted in life,” she adds.

Lucia takes a new lease on life as she goes back to school to provide a better future for her child.

When the schools were established, their enrolment started with around 300 students. At present, it caters to over 10,000 children prompting World Vision to increase the classrooms. Antheneh Mekonnen, World Vision’s Irish Aid Project Manager, said they also organized three shifts to accommodate everyone interested.

“There were a lot of challenges, including overcrowded rooms. But you can see the enthusiasm of the children so it inspires us to keep finding ways,” Mekonnen says.

With funding from Irish Aid, World Vision supports not only the children’s education but also the training and incentives for 150 teachers, constructed more than 45 classrooms the schools’ surroundings and facilities are very basic. There are no proper floors. Children like 10-year old Dar Kur was squeezed between two classmates while taking her exam. But her eyes show that determination to be in school and learn.

Dar Kur is not bothered by the crowded classroom as she concentrates in her exam.

Community volunteer Thon Malith said everyone appreciated having the schools in the camps. Thon himself moved the impossible to start setting up a school until World Vision came to help.

“Despite the condition of the schools, it produced 17 out of 20 top performers this year. One day a leader will come out these these children. They are smart. If given the chance, I am sure even the president of South Sudan could come from these schools someday”, he says with conviction.

He could be foretelling the future.