Schoolchildren in Abyei aspire to higher education despite all odds

A new project funded by Norway will construct classrooms and provide furniture and learning materials to improve student retention and learning outcomes

Robin Giri
Nyandeng (in green dress) with her classmates in Abyei during the visit of Hon Minister. Awut Deng Acuil and UNICEF Representative Hamida Lasseko.
UNICEFSouthSudan/Giri
17 February 2022

Protected from the harsh midday sun only by the plastic sheeted roof, and with makeshift walls of bamboo, 14-year-old Nyandeng smiles shyly as she talks about the upcoming Primary 8 exams.

“I’m quite confident because I have been preparing for weeks and I know I will graduate to Senior 1,” she says from the front of her classroom which lies smack on the side of the dirt road that serves as the highway between Agok and Aiyei town.

In a country battered by ongoing conflict and recurrent humanitarian disasters, and without permanent structures for schools, schoolchildren like Nyandeng are a testament to the power of education and of hope for a better future.

The dirt floor that she stands on is cracked from the heat, but during the rainy season, it turns mushy and they must relocate to higher ground. Or worse, continue to learn amidst the muck while the rains continue for half the year.

Nyandeng and her classmates, along with many other schoolchildren in Abyei region are set to benefit from a new programme that will support the rehabilitation and construction of classrooms and provide teaching and learning materials.

Dignitaries from the Abyei Administrative Region, Hon. Minister for Education, Norwegian Counsellor, and UNICEF Representative at the Mabuny Primary school in Agok for the launch.
UNICEFSouthSudan/Giri
Dignitaries from the Abyei Administrative Region, Hon. Minister for Education, Norwegian Counsellor, and UNICEF Representative at the Mabuny Primary school in Agok for the launch.

The Abyei Education Programme was officially launched on 8 February by the Minister for General Education and Instruction Hon. Awut Deng Acuil at the Mabuny Primary School in Agok town of Abyei Administrative region.

The one-year project, supported by UNICEF with funding of USD 1.2 million from Norway, will target selected schools and will help improve access to quality basic education for children in the Abyei region.

“Education is not an option; it is a right for all children of South Sudan, and teachers are the backbone of the education system. I am happy that this project will support teacher training and provision of learning materials, which will help to improve learning outcomes,” said the Hon. Minister at the launch of the programme.

Minister for Education and General Instruction Awut Deng Acuil speaking at the launching of the Abyei Education Programme.
UNICEFSouthSudan/Giri
Minister for Education and General Instruction Awut Deng Acuil speaking at the launching of the Abyei Education Programme.

Also accompanying the Minister for the launching ceremony was Dr. Michael Tawanda, Counsellor, Head of Cooperation for the Norwegian Embassy, Hon. Lt. Gen. Kuol Deim Kuol, the Chief Administrator of Abyei Administrative Area and Hamida Lasseko, UNICEF Representative.

“Norway has a long history with South Sudan and we are proud of this partnership with UNICEF in support of this education programme in Abyei which, among other things will provide the same learning opportunities for girls and children with disabilities,” said Michael Tawanda on behalf of the Norwegian Embassy.

The Government of Norway has been a steady partner to UNICEF’s education programmes globally and in South Sudan prior to its independence in 2011. Although Norway supports thematic funding for education, it also prioritises girls’ education and children with disabilities, which are key priorities for UNICEF too.

“I am a testimony to the power of girls education,” said Hamida Lasseko. “If my parents hadn’t chosen to educate me, I would not be standing here today; and I urge all parents and caregivers to provide the same for their daughters.”

Visitors from Juba including UNICEF Representative and Chief of Education join schoolchildren from Mabuny Primary School to celebrate the launch.
UNICEFSouthSudan/Giri
Visitors from Juba including UNICEF Representative and Chief of Education join schoolchildren from Mabuny Primary School to celebrate the launch.

The Abyei Education Programme will last for one year and will provide funding for the construction or rehabilitation of classrooms in 20 schools. It will support training for teachers who are the pillars of the education system in South Sudan. It will also provide desks and benches and other learning materials such as school and recreation kits, early child development kits and support adolescent girls with dignity kits.