Back in class after 50 years

Sixty-five-year-old Catheria Keratho Adwak Akoth has just picked up where she left off, around 50 years ago

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
Sixty-five-year-old Catheria Keratho Adwak Akoth at a desk in a classroom
31 October 2018

MALAKAL, South Sudan – “Who knows how long I will stay in school, I might join the university and study nursing.” Sixty-five-year-old Catheria Keratho Adwak Akoth has just picked up where she left off around 50 years ago when she had to quit school when she was married off as a young girl.

“I remember I was not happy about that, but I was the only daughter in the family and my parents thought education was a waste of time since my days would be filled with domestic work.”

Catheria is chewing on her pen while reading the questions. She sighs and rests her head in the left hand before writing down the answers. Today she is doing a level four science exam, her second exam this year. “It was fairly easy,” she said after finishing.

The questions about the human body are no challenge for future doctor Nora Akoloth, just a few desks down from Catheria. The 18-year-old girl wants to become a gynecologist to help women. Having Catheria in the classroom is a huge inspiration she says.

“She is cheering us on, encouraging us to do our best.”

– says Nora about Catheria
18-year-old Nora
UNICEF South Sudan/2018
Nora, 18

Nora says all her friends are in school. The friends who left school are busy with babies and they no longer stay in touch. “I have tried to convince them to come back to school and help them, but to no avail. Now, we have nothing in common anymore.”

Even though they don’t stay in touch, she is concerned. “If you marry early you will not have a good future, you will face a lot of problems like not giving your children the right medicine because you can’t read the labels. Education gives you a better future.”

Catheria is dragging her feet towards the desk at the front of the classroom to hand in her exam. Her steps are not as light as when she was a young student but they are more determined than ever. She is not only here for herself.

“I want to be a good role model, to show young girls it is never too late to return to school.”

– Catheria

“Too many girls get married too soon – just like I did. Even my own daughters have decided to get married instead of finishing their education. I hope I can be an inspiration for them and other children.”

Nora and her seven siblings are all in school. “Like Catheria, our parents think education is important and wants to see change. That starts with education,” she finishes.

UNICEF is supporting the primary schools in the Malakal Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites, including organizing transport to the exam venues in Malakal town.

(Funding for education programming in Malakal, as well as other parts of South Sudan, is generously funded by the USAID, German National Committee for UNICEF, the Government of Norway and the Norwegian National Committee.)