16-year-old Steven Gai Jule was fighting in the war for two years - now he is in school. - Photo: William Vest-Lillesøe

After many years of civil war, vast sections of the population in South Sudan lack the most basic academic skills. A new project gives young people an education so they can help rebuild the country

A tall boy with a sombre look in his eyes limps through the dust into the classroom, where he sits down on a stone. He produces a notebook with footballers and gets ready to use his pencil. The bandage around his foot has been changed lately. However, it only alleviates the symptoms of the bullet wound he received in battle two years ago. Steven Gai Jule is 16 years old and studies at the Oxfam IBIS-sponsored ALP school in Ganyliel in northern South Sudan.

When he was 12, he was dragged out of school and sent to an opposition army military camp. He fought against the government troops for two years, until he was wounded in an attack.

Steven got off lightly compared to many of his comrades, who were killed in battle. And despite complications in the healing of his bullet wound, preventing him from playing football with fellow pupils, he is nevertheless delighted to be back in school.

Alternative to War

Sitting around Steven, are other former child soldiers, refugees and young people who also had to break off school due to armed conflict. The ALP School enables them to catch up on what they have missed out on by means of a four-year course, which Oxfam IBIS has previously tried out with success following the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It encompasses training teachers to deliver quality education in schoolchildren’s mother tongue, building schools, distributing teaching aids and involving parents.

So far, we have set up ten ALP schools in northern South Sudan. They provide pupils with an alternative to war and equip them with basic academic skills, enabling them to contribute constructively to developing their young nation.

Children and young people are immersed in learning, sitting on stones, empty cans, tree stumps and broken plastic chairs.

Despite being in such a humble state, the classroom is full of hope and dreams of a South Sudan without war and famine. Steven’s dream is to become a doctor.

“Then I can save lives and treat my people,” he says with his hand on his bandaged foot.