A young returnee to Southern Sudan looks to the referendum and beyond

© UNICEF Sudan/2007/Warren
Woro Fatuma, 19, has returned to Southern Sudan with her family, which fled their home near Juba nearly 14 years ago, at the height of Sudan’s two-decade civil war.

JUBA, Southern Sudan, 7 January 2011 – With the Southern Sudan referendum on independence scheduled for 9 January, hundreds of thousands of southerners are heading home to vote. While some have been assisted by the Southern Sudanese government, many others are returning on their own by rail, road, river and air.

Woro Fatuma, 19, her parents and five siblings are among those who recently returned from Khartoum, in the north, and are struggling to settle in a new environment. They live in a makeshift grass thatched structure in Gudele, an sprawling residential area in the Juba City area.

Years of schooling lost

Nearly 14 years ago, Woro’s family fled their home near Juba at the height of Sudan’s two-decade war, which ended in 2005.

“I remember my elder brothers stopped going to school or to visit their friends,” said Woro. Her father, Samuel Fatuma, recalled that it was difficult to continue living in Juba then, as access was restricted and food and other basic commodities were fast running out.

So Woro and her family left for Khartoum on board a cargo plane. “When we landed we didn’t know where to go,” said Mr. Fatuma.

During the Fatumas time in Khartoum, Woro lost more than five years of schooling as the displaced family struggled to survive. At the age of 12, she finally enrolled in primary school. She is due to complete her primary education later this year.

‘Another displacement’

Having made the torturous, three-week journey to Juba – traveling thousands of miles by barge along the Nile River – Woro now looks forward to continuing her education when the academic year starts in Southern Sudan in April.

“I can’t afford another interruption. Age is against me,” she says. But her schooling will take place against the backdrop of her family’s struggle.

“It feels like another displacement,” notes Woro, “more or less the same way when we arrived in Khartoum after we fled from the south – only that this time it’s peaceful here and we have some savings, which we will depend on for the next few weeks.”

Determined to succeed

Despite the challenges she faces, Woro says she wants to quickly complete her studies, become a nurse and help provide quality health care to the children of Southern Sudan. “This dream keeps me awake and focused on my school,” she says.

Woro’s determination represents that of many young people whose families are returning home from the north.

“The realization of aspirations and dreams of the children and young people of Southern Sudan, such as Woro, is crucial for nation-building,” says Dr. Yasmin Haque, Director of the UNICEF Southern Sudan Area Programme. “There is no priority greater than enabling the current generation of children to realize their full potential, to make the best of their talents and skills, to put an end to the poverty and suffering that has been the reality for too long in Southern Sudan.”



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