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Keeping fingers crossed, hoping for a better future

Tabu Enike, 16 years old

“The biggest thing I will celebrate in our first year of independence is the restoration of peace. Freedom is like a dark cloud that has been lifted over our heads. Being free means everything to me. Now there are streets lights and we are now free to walk outside in the evening.”

Tabu Enike, 16, is studying hard and wants to become a government minister. Tabu wants to play a part in the governance of her country, still troubled after many years of civil war.

“Ministers are the decision makers and I know therefore that if I was to be a minister in parliament I would be able to, for example, help orphans and poor people, especially children”, she says.

Free education, career prospects and freedom are just some of the things South Sudan’s youth are celebrating as the first anniversary of the newly independent state approaches.

Children and youth in the world’s newly independent country are optimistic, despite dire economic and political forecasts for the troubled infant state. They say they have their fingers crossed for a better future, according to an opinion poll conducted by Plan South Sudan.

Adam Modi, 16 years old

“If the new government does not help my father, then I will have to do it myself when I become an optician. I also want to help other people who cannot access adequate healthcare.”

Adam Modi, 16, a grade seven pupil at Gudele Model Primary School in South Sudan’s capital Juba, is clear about his future prospects – he wants to become an optician. Adam’s father is half blind and the fact that he has not been able to get medical services for many years has bothered Adam all his life.

He explains: “My father visited many hospitals a few years ago,  but his efforts came to nothing due to more than two decades of civil war that dashed any hopes for decent medical care in this country. My father gave up seeking medical help and he learnt to live with the fact that he is half blind.”.

But as South Sudan celebrates its first year of independence, Adam is cautiously optimistic that finally his father might regain full sight as the government moves, albeit at a slow pace, to shore up the health delivery service in the country of more than eight million people.

For Adam, good healthcare is a top priority and he is dedicating his life to ensuring that this will be a reality. He also feels that good infrastructure, education and security are key to the growth and development of South Sudan.

“I now know my rights as a child, thanks to Plan International”, adds Adam. “Through the child rights and child protection training that I received from Plan on several occasions, I now know what I am entitled to as a citizen.”

John Soro, 21 years old

“The government has brought free education since independence and this has allowed me to come back to school. Knowledge is the key to changing South Sudan.”

John Soro, 21, should be in his third year at university but is still in year six at Mirikio Primary School. John is just but one of a plethora of young South Sudanese who are celebrating the fact that they are now able to return to school.

During more than two decades of civil war, schools were destroyed and many young people were forced to join the war as child soldiers. Others fled the country into neighbouring states where they were housed in refugee camps with little or no education facilities. South Sudan has one of the world lowest literacy rates at just 27%.

“I applaud non-governmental organizations such as Plan International for complementing government efforts in the area of education by building classrooms,” says John.

He is unfazed that at 21 he is still in primary school.

“Just as my country has also gotten independence late, I will also have to make sure I succeed,” he adds.

Many others are hopeful

Other young people and children who took part in the opinion poll, involving more than 50 children and youth in South Sudan, hope to find jobs after completing their education, but the prospects of transitioning into the job market remain hollow unless the economy grows.

Hilde Johnson, the United Nations Special Representative to South Sudan this week said: “The situation in South Sudan remains dire unless the international community unlocks more financial support to the country and unless oil production is resumed. Security is also key to the success of South Sudan”.

Acting Country Director in Plan South Sudan, Gerald Magashi, says for South Sudan to realise long term peace and stability, the country needs to concentrate its efforts on building the capacity of the youth – but says there are grave threats to security due to the troubled relationship between North and South Sudan.

“The high hopes for the world’s newest nation have yet to materialise. One year on from independence, South Sudan is facing violent conflict with its northern neighbour, Sudan - while struggling to cope with an influx of returnees with unaccompanied children fleeing the north and an unfolding food crisis.

“If we want long term peace and stability in the region we need to concentrate our efforts building the capacity of the youth. The international community must invest in giving young people skills and jobs. Viable and stable livelihoods will help this new generation build their own country, and steer them away from the risks of inter-ethnic fighting,” says Gerald.