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A group of girls at a Jesuit Refugee Service supported school in Yambio, South Sudan receive sanitary kits. (Hezekiah Ombiri/Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Nairobi) January 9, 2014 — At the end of 2012 Jesuit Refugee Service Eastern Africa handed over its projects in Lobone, Nimule, Kajo Keji, and Yei to the local community and the local Church. The journey towards peace had been attained, the country is independent, and solid support had been offered to returnees in collaboration with the local community, administration and church, with support from donors. 

The handover of JRS projects allowed us room to discern where to move next to offer the much needed support in areas of primary, secondary education and teacher training.

During the first quarter of last year, JRS Eastern Africa moved to Yambio in South Sudan's Western Equatoria State and Maban in Upper Nile State. In Yambio JRS supports a community that had equally been affected by the long years of conflict, and attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). A gradual start has seen 12 primary school teachers enrolled in a teacher training college run by Solidarity with South Sudan

Additionally, seven Diploma teachers were sent to Uganda for training in order to return and offer support to schools in Yambio; 673 girls are supported with school fees and sanitary kits so that they can have equal access to quality education as the boys. JRS supported four primary schools and four secondary schools in Yambio in 2013. We are hoping to scale up the support to 10 (five primary and five secondary) schools this year, and rehabilitate some to create a conducive learning space.

In Maban, where JRS moved to respond to the needs of Sudanese refugees, we spent a good number of months last year carrying out a comprehensive assessment of educational and psychosocial needs in four refugee camps. By the end of November 2013, the need to offer in-service teacher training in collaboration with Solidarity with South Sudan and to respond to the psychosocial needs of refugees in the four camps of Gandrissa, Kaya, Batil and Doro became clear. 

Despite the challenges faced during the rainy season — where our staff found themselves entrapped in tents due to a stormy night — with focus on the service for the forcibly displaced our team is determined to respond to the identified needs in 2014. In Maban JRS intends to improve on the quality of education through comprehensive teacher training with focus on gender equality, vulnerable groups and incorporating the host community in all its activities. 

"The need is huge both in formal and non-formal education in Maban and a lot has to be done," says Rebeca Acedo the JRS Maban Education Coordinator. JRS is in a good position to have a better impact on education given the organization's 15 years experience in South Sudan. We hope to draw from our previous experience to bridge these gaps and transform the quality of education.

With the start of the conflict in South Sudan in mid-December last year, our dreams are disrupted but not shattered. We view education as protection, the same way we regard psychosocial support as repairing wounded hearts and minds and establishing right relationships among individuals and communities. These interventions are needed now more than ever before as we labor side by side with those in most need globally.  

According to OCHA, as of January 7, the conflict has displaced more than 201,000 within the country while forcing 32,000 others to seek refuge in neighboring countries. We cannot forget the more than 1,000 people who have been reportedly killed in the conflict.

We pray that the ongoing mediation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for peace may help South Sudan return to normal and that our dreams and those of South Sudanese for harmony and integral development may not be in vain. We appeal to all the parties in the conflict to give peace a chance. With continued support from our enduring partners and donors we will strive to make a difference in the lives of the forcibly displaced in South Sudan. 

Related: Jesuits urge peaceful resolution to South Sudan crisis

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