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Basic school supplies reach children and teachers in post-war Southern Sudan

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Walfridsson
Children help unload a delivery of school supplies in Southern Sudan.

By Rachel Beck

KWAJOK, Southern Sudan, 20 December 2006 – Angelina Nyanyok, 18, a student at the local primary school, identifies her classroom by the single element that provides any shelter.

“I’m in Primary Seven,” she says. “It’s the one under the big tree.”

Like nearly one-third of learning spaces in Southern Sudan, Kwajok Primary School teaches children in the open air. Students sit on benches made of roughly hewn logs, reciting lessons inscribed on a chalkboard propped against the tree trunk. Rain means that school is automatically cancelled.

Worst of all, says Angelina, is the lack of learning materials.

“We don’t have exercise books, and we don’t have textbooks,” she says. “It is too much money to buy these things. When there are not even pencils or pens, what is the reason for going to school?”

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Beck
At Kwajok Primary School, children play in front of an emergency classroom tent supplied by UNICEF.

4,000 tonnes of supplies

In early 2006, UNICEF embarked on a massive distribution project to ensure that young people like Angelina have access to the basic supplies they need in order to learn.

Over 4,000 metric tonnes of school supplies have been moved into Southern Sudan, including student kits, resource materials for teachers and recreation kits. More than 4 million textbooks are being delivered, while emergency classroom tents are being set up to ease overcrowding and provide shelter at outdoor schools like Kwajok Primary.

The logistical challenges are immense. At 640,000 square km, Southern Sudan is about the size of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Germany and Portugal combined. Yet there are only 5 km of paved roads in the entire region.

In remote areas, school supplies are airlifted by helicopter or delivered by river barges travelling up the Nile. Trucks force their way through heavy underbrush in order to reach ‘bush schools’, and numerous consignments of supplies have been distributed using donkeys and carts.

‘Go to School’ campaign

Despite the harsh conditions, the project has succeeded in achieving close to universal coverage. Wartime surveys estimated that only 13 per cent of schoolchildren in Southern Sudan had access to basic learning materials – a figure that has risen to nearly 100 per cent today.

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Beck
An emergency classroom tent at Kwajok Primary School helps shelter students who would otherwise learn in the open air.

The distribution effort is a key component of the ‘Go to School’ initiative, a major campaign to rebuild the education system and bring 1.6 million children back to the classroom following two decades of civil war.

Since the launch of ‘Go to School’ on 1 April 2006, thousands of teachers have been trained and a new curriculum has been developed. Enrolment rates have skyrocketed, up from an estimated 343,000 during the war to over 850,000 in late 2006.

Increase in enrolment

The provision of learning materials has proven to be one of the most powerful incentives for families who would not otherwise be able to send their children to school. At Kwajok Primary School, the distribution of school supplies led to an immediate increase in enrolment.

“Before, the children had to buy pencils and notebooks in the market,” says the County Director of Education in Kwajok, Gabriel Majong Majong. “But now, these things are free – so the children are coming to school.”

And for the first time, Angelina and her schoolmates have the opportunity to use their new books in a classroom that doesn’t flood in bad weather. Five emergency tents have been distributed to Kwajok Primary School to provide shelter for students while permanent construction gets under way.




19 December 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the success of a campaign to get children back to school in post-war Southern Sudan.
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