JUBA, Sudan, 11 August 2010 – Mark, 19, is a young man of exceptional resilience and determination. He is also a former child soldier. Like many thousands of young people in his country, he comes from a family that was broken by civil war.
|VIDEO: UNICEF reports on schools that are opening their doors to children affected by war in Southern Sudan.|
Eight years ago, when he was 11, Mark was separated from his parents during an outbreak of violence in the village where they were living near Khartoum, Sudan's capital. When soldiers attacked a borehole where villagers were gathering water, Mark ran one way and his family members ran another. His mother was killed in the raid.
Mark ended up wandering alone from place to place, including across several international borders, barely surviving. Today he is matter-of-fact about his situation and prefers to concentrate on his future – which he says is focused on education.
Fighting to survive
"I am a Dinka," says Mark, referring to his ethnic group. "From a young age, usually around 12, boys are expected to take care of themselves, not rely on their families."
|© UNICEF video|
|Mark, 19, attends a primary school in Juba, the largest city in Southern Sudan. He is a former child soldier who was separated from his family at age 11.|
Eventually, Mark joined a rebel group that was fighting the troops of Sudan's Government. It was a way of simply surviving; he was fed and clothed, but not paid.
Mark stayed with the group for three years, but he grew disillusioned with army life after witnessing the brutal deaths of several of his fellow child soldiers in combat. He left the group, stowing away on a boat that was headed south along the Nile River.
The boat finally reached Juba, the largest city in Southern Sudan, and Mark disembarked. There he discovered that the regional government – with UNICEF support – was organizing a ‘Go to School’ drive designed to help children make up the schooling they had missed in wartime. Now Mark attends a basic school in Juba and considers himself fortunate.
Back in school
The school that Mark attends was built by UNICEF and other development partners to help young people who have lost out on significant amounts of their education due to the war. Students here attend classes in Arabic and English, which many are keen to learn because they see it as a passport into the wider world.
|© UNICEF video|
|Thousands of young boys became child soldiers during the civil war in Sudan. Now many are returning to school.|
Mark says he is interested in studying medicine or a similar profession to help his country rebuild after decades of war.
Despite this headway, however, challenges to education remain prevalent in Southern Sudan. The regional government has not yet managed to implement the official abolition of school fees, and people struggle to pay for their children to attend school. Lacking any family support, Mark works evenings, in a local shack that sells chilled drinks, so that he can pay his way through primary school. He hopes to continue on to secondary school and then university.
Unity in education
Mark acknowledges that his daily life is far from perfect. Although Southern Sudan has seen five years of fragile peace so far, there is still political uncertainty. Mark notes that Juba lacks adequate hospitals, roads, sanitation and other basic infrastructure.
But education for children in Southern Sudan is one of the greatest rewards of peace. Parents are realizing the long-term value in educating their children – including girls, who make up about one in six of Mark's classmates. At the UNICEF-supported school, children of mixed ethnic and tribal backgrounds are studying alongside one another for the first time after years of inter-ethnic and inter-tribal conflict.
"This is what gives us hope," says Mark. "We are all together now as one."
Rising Voices on ViewChange.org
'Back on Track' website