South Sudan: Wedweil schools

Santino Yuot, a leader of the South Sudanese community in Australia, approached indigo foundation to support a teacher training and school renovation project in his homeland 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 school was called off in hot and rainy weather. In 2015, indigo foundation funded a new roof, which means that students can now be in enclosed classrooms 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.

Already school numbers have increased from 400 to 500 children. Young people who dropped out of school at the height of the conflict are now returning to finish their schooling.

But the needs are great. Our priority in 2017 is to launch an expanded teacher training program, training 100 teachers over three years.

With the looming famine in South Sudan, the community has also prioritised a food garden at the school. This will mean there will be clean water at the school for the first time, as well as food to feed to students and teachers who arrive at school hungry.

Interview with Project Coordinator 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

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.