Despite a peace agreement signed in August 2015 to end the conflict across South Sudan, real peace has not reached many corners of the country. Young children in Leer County in the former Unity State have not been going to school for the past three years because of continuing insecurity there. Thousands of families have been driven to hide in the local swampy areas by the three-year long conflict in South Sudan.
Gatkwoch Jush is one of the thousands of the children in Leer cut off from education. He was studying at the Thonyor Primary School in Primary in Leer when the conflict broke out in 2013. The 15-year-old dreamt of becoming a medical doctor, but those dreams died as he is no longer going to school.
“There is no school that I can go to because of the war,” he said.
Leer County is the birthplace of rebel leader and former First Vice President Riek Machar and is controlled by rebels who support Machar. There are no government services in the area and aid agencies have only recently started delivering aid to the people.
No school here
Another 12-year-old, Khemish Gok Lam, is dressed in a torn black pair of shorts and a T-shirt and is walking barefoot under the scorching sun said that he dropped out of school in 2013. He was in primary one when the conflict broke out. He now spends his days wandering around at the Thonyor registration centre so that he can receive food aid. When he was in school, Lam wanted to become a medical Doctor.
“Since the war broke out there is no school. I don’t have money for going to school and my father has no job to transfer me elsewhere to another school,” he said.
Andrew Ran, 45, is a parent of eleven who has lived all his whole life in Leer County. Together with his family, Ran has been living in the swamp since the conflict broke out. None of his eleven children have gone to school for the last three years. His oldest child is 15 years old and she dropped out of school in 2013 while in primary five and is yet to return to school. “There is no school here,” he said.
Ran and many fathers and mothers have run out of ideas as to how they can educate their children. Together with thousands of others trapped by the conflict, Ran cannot afford to relocate his family out of Leer. Moving by road means endangering him and his family as the armed forces are known to attack passing vehicles.
“What can we do? We are just the people of this area. We don’t want to go anywhere. We want to stay in our land,” he said.
No room for aid
James Thot works with a local aid agency and called the situation worrying. He said that children are being traumatised by the fighting.
“The teachers are scattered. There are no books here. There is no chalk,” he said.
Pete Walsh is the Country Director for Save the Children, one of the aid agencies working in South Sudan. He said that the three-year conflict is hindering the work of aid agencies from providing education support in some of the areas.
“We need unimpeded access and we need protection for our staff,” he said. Without that, he added, education is impossible.
According to UNICEF, up to 1.8-million children have been forced out of school following the outbreak of the conflict and hundreds of thousands face hunger and starvation.