Since the outbreak of conflicts in 2013, South Sudan has been confronted with many challenges including large population displacements, chronic hyperinflation, civil unrest and, according to the United Nation’s children agency, UNICEF, the highest number of primary school dropouts.
At least 72 percent of children leave school before finishing primary education. Early marriage and economic reasons account for the large number of dropouts.
In Africa’s newest country, with its volatile environment, a fragile education system may be a principal reason for deterioration at school system and service delivery levels. Schools are characterized by poor educational outcomes and high numbers of outof- school children.
But all is not lost. In Juba, South Sudan’s capital city, Promise Land Secondary School offers some hope and encouragement.
Founded in 2016 by Jok Abraham Thon, the school provides secondary, or high school education, free of charge to 841 students.
Visiting the U.S. for the first time as a member of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative, Thon said, in addition to his duties with the Fellowship, while in the States, he sought help for his school. To his disappointment, he told The Final Call, he found none.
Promise Land Secondary School has been in existence for three years. The school was founded because of the dire need for education in South Sudan. Thon said, “Tackling the country’s literacy rate will go a long way towards solving South Sudan’s many problems.”
His school is trying to create a crop of young men and women who become “passionate” about developing “nation building skills and raising the economy of the country.”
Of Promise Land’s 841 students, 45 percent are female.
Meeting in a hotel lobby, just off the campus of the University of Delaware, who played host to the Fellowship, Thon said, “I established the school in 2016. The reason was the people were internally displaced and had nowhere to go for their education. And they were vulnerable people.”
He said the first thing he did was secure a location for the school. This was done by contacting local government authorities who issued land to use to start a school, he explained. Next he secured teachers by calling his classmates and teachers at the University of Juba. All of this, he said, was done with no money. He said he grew up in a culture where volunteering had been the norm and not the exception. Many of the people who he interacted with, including himself had been in refugee camps and Internal Displacement Placement camps (IDPs). “Because we came through that system of volunteering,” where teachers in IDPs and refugee camps would freely give their services, it was easy to ask for volunteer teachers for his school, he said.
Though Thon has tried to get funding from government agencies and non-governmental organizations, he has yet to receive any financial assistance.
While seeking assistance in the U.S., he couldn’t remember the number of times he’s been asked how he is able to stay open without funds. “The question that many people ask me is how do you finance this school?” He always tells a story about growing up and spending 10 years in a refugee camp in Uganda, where a culture of service became sacrosanct.
Thon left South Sudan as an infant, during the Bor Massacre, where over 2,000 Dinka’s were killed. He returned to South Sudan and attended the University of Juba, where he received a degree in economics.
Thon, who is 28 years old, said, “It always becomes a test of finance.” He added, “I have no financial capability or background in running a school, but I believe in what I do.” According to what he’s been told, it’s not enough. And he understands the need for resources. “You can’t just believe without financial support,” Thon said.
In South Sudan education is dispersed between state-run schools, private schools, and faith-based Christian and Islam schools. The state supports state-run schools. Private schools are supported by fees paid by the parents and faithbased schools are supported by churches and mosques. Thon said his school doesn’t fit any of those criteria.
“Not a lot of schools in Juba are like Promise Land Secondary School. What you have is government schools which are subpar and private schools, some located in Juba. The strongest sector is private schools because teachers are paid from the parents’ fees,” he said. “Some teachers may be on government payroll, but also work at private schools to guarantee receiving a salary. Some government employees go for months without receiving pay.”
Another South Sudanese whose passion is education is Mari Malek, the model, actor, DJ and founder of the non-profit , Stand 4 Education. Malek, according to Bazaar magazine, grew up in South Sudan and came to the United States as a refugee. Now, she uses her celebrity to raise money, build schools and advocate for girls in her native country.
According to Stand 4 Education’s website, its South Sudan Peacebuilding and Advocacy program is a program designed to promote education and peace for the children of South Sudan. Through this program, STAND4ED is able to create projects which can benefit the South Sudanese communities. Our goals are to improve access to education, work with existing schools, provide school supply kits and build sustainable schools which will continue to function for future generations. By creating this program, we are able to give the children of South Sudan the tools to help them develop their new nation in order to lead South Sudan into a new era of peace and growth.