|© UNICEF Sudan/2008/Andrew Heavens|
|Teacher Hamad Abdullah Saleh in front of his mobile Mohammad Hamad nomadic school in White Nile State, Sudan|
Andrew Heavens, UNICEF writer
AL MEGANIS, Sudan June 2008 - It is not every teacher who can pack up their school in a matter of minutes and stack it on the back of a camel.
But Hamad Abdullah Saleh is not every teacher.
He is the lone man at the head of a school of 61 children, all members of Sudan's nomadic A-Hamda tribe who spend large parts of the year covering miles upon miles of land across the neighbouring states of White Nile and South Kordofan.
And when the 61 students move, Hamad Abdullah Saleh moves with them, with his blackboard strapped to the back of his school camel, and his small stock of cattle trailing behind.
“As long as it is school time, I travel with them,” says Hamad, a tall, white-robed man in his late 50s who spent most of his earlier career teaching children who stay in one place – White Nile State's main town of Kosti.
“The first thing we do when we arrive in a new place is unload the blackboard. Then the community spends a day collecting wood and straw for the building. Then we start teaching.
“I have to leave my family behind in Kosti. But I took on this new job as a new challenge. The children are good students. And it is very fulfilling.”
Saleh's Mohammad Hamad nomadic school is the first educational establishment that the A-Hamda group has ever had.
In the past, a handful of children have been sent to stay with relatives for a few years of schooling in surrounding towns. But they have been a small minority and today hardly any of the adults in the cattle-rich group know how to read or write.
Things only started to change when the community decided to take matters into its own hands. In 2002, a small group travelled to Kosti – more than five hours drive or several days trekking away over open scrubland and rutted tracks from their dry-season base near the town of Al Meganis – to ask the state authorities for a school of their own.
“We wanted to educate our children so that they could become ministers and developers and teachers,” said community elder Haj Ahmed Abdel Goe. “We need them to be in those positions of authority because, before then, the government hadn't even given us a school.”
For a while nothing happened. Then, three years ago, they received a visit from Rea Ahmed Hassan, White Nile's newly-appointed Director of Nomadic Education. A budget was allocated, a teacher appointed and the A-Hamda set about building their first school.
Much of the teacher training, school uniforms and teaching materials came from UNICEF, working through White Nile's state authorities. Rea herself travels around White Nile in a Toyota truck also donated by UNICEF.
But the daily drive to get the school up and running has come from the community itself. They are the ones who actually construct the small school house - “We dug our water points ourselves, so this building work is no problem,” said Haj Al-Awad Ali Al-Awad, a member of the new school's all-male Parent Teachers Association.
|© UNICEF Sudan/2008/Andrew Heavens|
|Children from Um Ser nomadic school, White Nile State, Sudan|
Families agreed to start sending their children to classes, taking them away for several hours a day from the valuable work they were doing fetching water and tending the animals.
Currently, 23 girls and 38 boys attend the daily classes in mathematics, history, Arabic and religious studies. “We decided that all the girls should go to school, like the boys,” said Haj Ahmed.
And every evening, 30 adults from the ancient nomadic community sit down in the class room to start their own adult education session – another first for the group.
“There is no age limit to education,” said 30-year-old herder El-Nur Hamad who attends the evening classes“There is no age limit to education,” said 30-year-old herder El-Nur Hamad who attends the evening classes.
The A-Hamda's story is not unique. Scores of nomadic groups have crossed the planes of White Nile, Kordofan and beyond for centuries.
“Before I started this job in 2001, the educational situation for nomadic children in the state was basically zero,” said nomadic education director Rea Ahmed Hassan.
Today, her proudest achievement is the fact that there are now almost 3,000 girls pursuing their education through 40 nomadic schools in While Nile alonethere are now almost 3,000 girls pursuing their education through 40 nomadic schools in While Nile alone, out of 6,550 young nomads enrolled across the state.
They are only the beginning. White Nile region plans to more than double the number of nomadic schools in Whit Nile to 100 by the end of next year. In the latest push, 36 new teachers have been fanning out across the region. Many of the newer schools will be designed for 40 or fewer pupils, to reach the fragmented nomadic groups that roam through some of the region's most remote territory.
There is still a need for text books, vehicles and specialised teacher training. But huge progress has already been made.
"When I first started visiting communities," said Rea, "some were a bit suspicious about dealing with a woman.
"The women used to come out thinking I was a midwife and were disappointed to find an official.
"But I told them, help me open a school and you can train your own daughters to be midwives."