24 February 2014: Plan is providing vital support as the new school term begins this week in conflict-hit South Sudan – amid overcrowding, security concerns, and the worry that some girls may choose marriage instead.
Nearly 900,000 children and adults have so far been displaced by fighting between government and rebel troops since December – putting pressure on resources in safer areas.
Michael, the head-teacher of Gudele East Primary School in Juba, says there is an uneasy calm amid the preparations for the new school term.
“In a year we have 5 to 10 students dropping out, mostly girls due to pregnancy and marriage. Given the current situation it could get worse, but we are putting in all our efforts to ensure this does not happen.”
Hundreds in one class
The school has already registered over 500 students, with 200 new students from Jonglei and Upper Nile (Malakal) who have moved to Juba as a result of the conflict.
“One big challenge we already had and that could become worse this year is the issue of overcrowding,” Michael explains. “In some cases we have over 180 to 215 students in one class.”
Christopher Lomugun, the school’s deputy head-teacher, says that some students are not returning, fearing backlash from the conflict.
“It’s clear that students from certain communities who fear directed killings are not returning or registering,” he says.
But many other young people are eager to restart classes.
“They're bored and tired of staying at home. Some say it is a big source of stress, and brings back lots of bad memories.”
Safe spaces for children
As part of its emergency response, Plan is setting up child-friendly spaces for children to play and connect, as well as temporary learning spaces offering opportunities to restart education.
“Thousands of conflict affected children are missing out on the start of the new term. This will have long lasting consequences. Education is a key catalyst for development and peace,” says Unni Krishnan, Head of Disaster Response and Preparedness at Plan.
“South Sudan is a ‘new-born’ country. The needs and rights of children should find priority in relief and recovery efforts. Education and play sessions are essential to gain a sense of normalcy and together they work as catalysts for recovery.”
Plan is providing emergency aid and support to thousands of families caught up in the crisis. In addition to education, Plan’s response includes food, water, sanitation and child protection.