South Sudan: Wedweil schools

The new Government of South Sudan inherited a country with very little education infrastructure and an acute shortage of qualified teachers. Infrastructure is shockingly inadequate across South Sudan but is even worse in the war ravaged and largely neglected north western corner of the country.

Since 2013 we have partnered with a small local community organisation, the Wedweil Community Development Fund, and the South Sudanese refugee community in Australia to rebuild education infrastructure and outcomes for children and young people in Aweil State.

This partnership grew from a relationship in Australia with Santino Yuot, a former refugee and leader of the South Sudanese community in Australia, to support a school renovation project in Santino’s home village of Wedweil in Aweil State, South Sudan. Like many refugees living in Australia, Santino and the organisation he founded and represents, the Dinka Literacy Association, care deeply about their community back home.

Wedweil faces staggering challenges. Infrastructure in Aweil State has not been rebuilt since the previous civil war, and 92% of its people live below the poverty line. Many people have never experienced proper schooling.

The school in Wedweil was built prior to 1965 and badly damaged during the war. It had no roof and the local community had gathered grass and tree branches to create some protection. But it was not enough to keep the school going in hot and rainy weather. In 2015, indigo foundation funded a new roof, which meant that students are now able to learn in all weather.

In 2016, we worked with Santino and the community to organise the first teacher-training in the area for 10 teachers from Wedweil School and 15 teachers from surrounding schools. We also supported the building of the first toilets for the school, including a separate female toilet which is a big factor in family’s deciding to send their girls to school.

School numbers increased from 400 to 500 children and young people who dropped out of school at the height of the conflict are now returning to finish their schooling. In recognition of the improvements to the school, the teaching and enrolments, the government has converted the school to be the first Secondary School in the area.

In 2017 we worked with the community, the South Sudanese Ministry of Education and the World Food Program to launch a three year teacher training program for over 60 teachers from three states. Over 100 teachers attended the training in 2019.

We also continue to rebuild and improve infrastructure of Wedweil School, including establishing clean water supply in 2018, erecting a fence around the school and working towards establishing a cooperative garden on school grounds – a key community priority giving looming famine in South Sudan and the fact that the majority of students and teachers arrive at school hungry.

Interview with Project Advisor Santino Yuot, ‘Journeys to Auburn’ project © Javier Valledor

Since the classrooms have been fixed, there are now more children coming to school. More children are sitting in those classrooms. There really is a lot of community support. The people see they are not alone. The project has bought the community together … and many in the community have worked hard to make it happen. It has given hope for better schools and a better life in the future.

– Santino Yuot

background

In South Sudan we partner with a small, newly formed, volunteer-run organisation called the Wedweil Community Development Fund (WCDF). The WCDF is based in the village of Wedweil in Aweil State in South Sudan and their purpose is to rebuild education opportunities in the extremely poor, food insecure and remote communities of Aweil and Lol states.

WCDF established in 2014 to partner with indigo foundation and they have grown in capacity and ambition since then – from initially focussing on repairing the roof at their local school to now working with the South Sudanese Ministry of Education to support teacher training for over 60 teachers across two states.

Our partner does incredible work in a country that has endured three decades of devastating civil war. Social and economic indicators for South Sudan place it amongst the poorest countries in the world. Capacity is extremely limited, reflecting the dire lack of education opportunities over several generations, and in recognition of that we are investing in building the capacity of our partner, including financial reporting, management, impact measurement and community engagement. We know the capacity of the very poor, war ravaged society in this remote part of South Sudan is extremely low and we believe our partner can play a pivotal role in building community confidence and skills.

In Australia, we work closely with the South Sudanese refugee community and the Dinka Literacy Association. Our Australia-based Partnership Advisor Santino Yuot is integral to the partnership. The Dinka Literacy Association conducts a community language school in Auburn, Merrylands and Lidcombe, NSW. The Dinka language is the predominant language spoken in southern Sudan and many refugees coming to Australia are Dinka-speaking South Sudanese. The Dinka language was banned by Khartoum during the civil war, so a person from the south wanting to get an education had to go to the north and learn Arabic first. The Dinka language is an integral part of south Sudanese identity, yet many Dinka adults do not speak it well and are illiterate in it. The Dinka Literacy Association has given the Dinka language a new life in Australia. The association now wishes to support communities back in South Sudan.

For over twenty years north and south Sudan fought a bloody civil war, including in and around Wedwil. Villages were ravaged, buildings were burnt and much infrastructure demolished. Most southern Sudanese lost their cattle (a hugely significant cultural and financial asset) and their houses, which were burnt down or bombed. In 2005, peace was negotiated, the terms of which were set down in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and included the opportunity for the south to secede based on a popular referendum. In July 2011,South Sudan became the world’s newest independent country, with freedom of religion and democratic institutions.

For some time, indigo foundation has been interested in working with refugee communities in Australia to support the communities from which they fled. The existing and deeply committed relationships between the new Australians and family, friends and community at home, the importance of supporting these communities as a way of recovering from or reconciling often unimaginable loss and trauma, and the opportunity for us to learn from and be engaged more closely with the communities we support are some of the reasons for this.

latest updates

The partnership is making great progress, with over 100 teachers attending the teacher training course in 2018, clean water established to Wedweil School and a committee forming to take forward a new school food garden.

Please see here for the latest update.