The Leaders of South Sudan
By Tim Coleman with pictures/video Neil Sandoz | Sudan and South Sudan in East Africa
Pictures and video by Neil Sandoz. Words by Tim Coleman.
Sibbet rises from his bed at first light. It’s early, but the day is filled with anticipation. Sibbet has somewhere to be. He grabs his shirt, slides it over his head then fastens the top couple of buttons. He picks up his own textbook and pen and starts the walk from his home.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Sibbet had nothing in particular to get out of bed for. Loiter around the market? Find the shade of a tree under which to play with his friends? Life is different now - the shade of the trees serve a different purpose.
This morning and every day since April 2018, eleven-year-old Sibbet has been attending school. For the first time.
A History of Instability
South Sudan is at war. There is a major crisis. Throughout decades of instability, the education of its youth has been largely ignored.
Mabaan County, where a number of the SIM South Sudan team is based, is probably one of the least educated places in South Sudan. There have been virtually no primary or secondary schools operating here for fifteen years and more. That is an entire generation of people who have not received any education at all.
The only shot at a primary school education has been in a government school. Sadly, these schools are under-resourced, under-staffed and overcrowded. In offering a limited capacity and desire to reach the heart of children, the drop out rate from a government school is high.
For a country in a perpetual state of unrest and conflict, the need to use education as power and a weapon is crucial in breaking that violent cycle.
Back in 2016, we shared an encouraging story about the first graduates from the SIC Secondary School in Doro. Sadly, conflict broke out in the area in December 2016, during which time the school was damaged and looted. It has been closed ever since.
“People are not educated here. We felt that there should be a primary school that sets the bar high. This idea was in the mind of everyone here”, says Kur Deng of Gideon Theological Seminary.
It is from a heart for its youth that the Sudan Interior Church (SIC) - which is the main local church in South Sudan, comprising many community churches - reached out to SIM.
Equip the church
The relationship between SIM and SIC goes way back and “is a strong mutual relationship that God has made.” says James Hurun, Pastor at SIC.
Education was the clear area that SIC wanted to focus on in its partnership with SIM. Out of this, a vision for a new primary school was born.
SIC has had the freedom to set up the primary school in the way that works best for the church and the people, so that eventually the church be able to take sole control of operations.
For the time being, SIM has the role and responsibility to help fund the school and to equip and disciple the staff.
“It’s a worship for me, helping and equipping the teachers. It's tempting for me to jump in and take over from the teachers. But that is not my job, my job is to equip the teachers. It really is a worship for me”, say primary school project manager and SIM missionary Merina.
Praise God, in March 2018, the first SIC primary school in Doro commenced classes. Sibbet is one of twenty-five students in his year group that attends the school each and every day, under the shade of tree, taught by trained and passionate SIC teachers.
A decision was made for the school to be set up in a way that it could continue operating, even if conflict was to occur again.
Today there are seven SIC primary schools across Mabaan county - four for the host community and three for refugees. Each school has two year groups of up to twenty-five students.
Those 350 students are the registered ones. As an outdoor school, there is regular interest from other children in the neighbourhood, whom are welcome to listen in. In fact, there is even a 45-year-old who regularly attends one of the primary schools!
Reflecting on the students who were not able to complete their secondary education before the school was forcibly closed, we have been encouraged. The SIC schools have an excellent local reputation, meaning many of those students have been able to secure employment for local NGO’s thanks to their affiliation with the school.
A page has been turned to an exciting new chapter in the lives of the South Sudanese children here in Mabaan county.
The heart of each child
In a place where it’s hard to even get a government primary education, the desire for the SIC primary school is to provide the best quality education around. That way, a child can follow their dreams beyond primary school, into secondary and even university education.
At SIC primary, children receive more than a school education. Teachers do not just teach subjects. SIC and SIM look to the person and heart of each teacher and child.
“We’re showing them the creator and that the bible is the word of God. I’m very happy in my heart. They have to have this education”, says Daniel Tana, a teacher at the school. Knowing the word of God will give each child a foundation to grow as a mature Christian.
The situation is tragic in this part of South Sudan. Yet, out of the ashes rises a primary school whose very foundation, whose chief cornerstone, is Jesus Christ.
"The vision of this primary school is to raise educated disciples, so that we can have godly men and women take their place in the churches, in the community and in the government”, says Dean Valkenaar, SIM South Sudan Director.
This school cannot fail, when God is the one establishing it. If it goes for many years, the school will change this country and its people.
A Better Tomorrow
Amidst a backdrop of instability, the hope for discipling and educating the youth and for the youth to carry their own education, is that they cannot fail.
Maybe some will become doctors, some teachers. Yet beyond this vision, discipled and educated children will come back to their community and improve the lives of those around them. Discipled children can share the good news with their parents, siblings and neighbours. Educated children will help and lead other people in the future.
Robert Gacha, a father of one primary school student, says, “It is a priority. That is why I am teaching my kids - we need you to go to school to learn. I want you tomorrow to be a better people”.
With teachers who can speak and teach English, who have the heart and the capacity to pastor the children, who are trained and oriented before each term, the seven SIC primary schools are experiencing excellent attendance from engaged students.
The children have some catching up to do - the first stage classes comprise 7 to 9 year olds and the second stage classes have 10 to 12 year olds - but there is nowhere else in the area where they have a better chance.
Our hope is that as we stand behind the South Sudanese, when together with SIC we fully support education and discipleship for this generation, that we will produce the leaders of South Sudan.
For more information about the SIC Primary School in South Sudan, please visit our contact page, quoting the project number SS 98019.