“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a family.”
South Sudan is no stranger to war. Since its successful referendum for succession from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has been in and out of the international press. Recently, more fighting has erupted around ownership of the oil field in Abyei along the newly defined border. While other countries are currently taking priority in the news, such as Syria or North Korea, I believe it’s still important to know that South Sudan needs our attention as much now as ever. In light of it being eclipsed by other international events, I wish to swing the spotlight back on South Sudan through a medium that needs no translation: personal stories.
I had the privilege of working with women and girls in Southern Sudan during the summer of 2010. During that time, I conducted lots of interviews, wanting to hear more about their lives, their hopes, their dreams and their concerns, and to ultimately share them with folks at home. This was their gift to me. I now pass it on to you, dear reader.
[Note: names have been changed.]
My name is Sofia. I don’t know how old I am. I have seven children and my oldest is married and has a child who is two years old, so that makes me a grandmother. My youngest child is nine years old.
My husband has five wives and I am his second. He struggles to give enough to all his wives and children so I need to support my kids on my own and opened up this shop. It used to be a complete restaurant and not just a tea shop. But eight months ago the items I used to supply the restaurant along with all my sorghum inventory were stolen. The thieves were never found so now I just have a tea shop.
I stayed in Marial Bai during the war. I stayed in a village close by while the Arabs invaded, took our cows our goats and burned our houses and crops to the ground. We hid for 14 weeks though my family was not immune from the consequences. My second oldest daughter was captured by the Arabs. Another Sudanese woman, who herself had lost all her children in the war, was with my daughter and was able to care for her during the three months of her capture. My daughter came back to me and I was so happy.
Four of my children are in primary school levels 1,3,4 and 7. I want my children to continue their education. I myself never went to school.
A normal day for me includes waking up at 6am, bathing, and checking in with my children to see if they need anything. They are old enough to help out with the chores like fetching water, sweeping, washing clothes and cooking, so I don’t have to do so much anymore. I open the shop at 7am and close the shop at 6pm to go home. The only time I have off is early Sunday morning when I go to church and pray. Otherwise I’m at the shop seven days a week.
I look forward to increasing business after the Referendum because, if it is peaceful, God willing, more people will return to this area, especially from the North. If we can separate peacefully without fighting more children will be educated without the drastic interruptions and devastation war brings.
My name is Beth and I am 17 years old. I am in Form 1A, a class with three girls and many boys in it. I am from Penatack, two hours away, but now live with my sister who is married and has two children. I myself am not married.
School is something very good. Here I am free. I want an education to help have a better life. After graduating I want to go to university and then get a job – something to help me out and then my life is OK. My dream job is to become a doctor. My favorite subjects are English, Biology and Chemistry. I like the teachers here and how they teach. I will be very happy to go from Form 1 to Form 2 (move up to the next grade). Outside of school I like to play volleyball and work in the garden, sing and dance.
As a small girl the conditions I grew up in were bad. There was no opportunity for education, no money for anything, there was nothing. My father has just one wife – my mother. Both are unemployed but they cultivate sorghum and ground nuts. As a child I would help my mother get firewood and fetch water. I have three brothers and two sisters and I am the last born of the girls.
When I was small, I remember the Arabs coming at night. “They came with the guns. To fighting. A lot of peoples die because of Arabics fighting.” I remember running away into the forest and for two or three months we had no food or water. I saw the Arabs coming with guns, the fighting and the people dying. They destroyed our homes and crops with fire. They burnt my house down. My mother and I were captured by the Arabs and they took us to the river. There we were met by SPLA soldiers who fought the Arabs and we were released. If the soldiers had not been there the Arabs would have taken us to Khartoum where we would have become slaves and forced to worship Islam.
After this we were angry. We had no homes, no beds, no clothes and were exposed to all the animals including mosquitoes. We lived like this for two years. My people suffered the invasions of Arabs for 21 years. They would take the women, girls and boys and send them to Khartoum to be slaves. If you refused to go you would be shot on the spot. The men fought and died. Finally Save the Children helped get the women and children back.
Girls still have a difficult time in Southern Sudan. It is difficult to get money to buy clothes and the school uniform. Girls are the ones cutting trees to sell the wood in the market to get money for bread and sorghum. Men with no work just sleep. Girls carry the water, buy bread and sorghum and work in the home. I cut the trees and collect wood every day after school and on the weekends. If I do not do this I won’t eat.
A typical day for me starts at 7:30am. I cook tea, sweep my room and the whole compound, walk 30 minutes to school. After school I work in the garden, fetch water, collect wood to sell and make dinner around 8:30 at night. After dinner I read if I have time, then I sleep.