Stories of Hope: Rebuilding Hope in South Sudan
by Jeff Ritchie
War was not new to John Jock. It had been somewhat continuous in Sudan/South Sudan since 1983. But this time, as he watched the destruction of his town, Malakal, South Sudan, he knew it was too dangerous for him and his family to remain. In February, 2014, they fled Malakal, leaving all their possessions in search of a safe place to live. In fact, the entire town fled.
Prior to fleeing, John was a teacher at Good Shepherd Primary School, the flagship school of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS). When not teaching, John applied his theology training by working in the Department of Education of PCOSS. John knew how important education was in the lives of people, especially those in South Sudan who had little else. Reading and writing skills elevated people from poverty to independence. John dedicated himself to making sure students had the opportunity to learn… until the war interrupted his dream.
He found relatively safe haven for his family in an internally displaced persons camp inside South Sudan. Deeply conflicted by the decision, John left the camp and his family to seek safer and more promising accommodations for them. Eventually, he found a refugee camp operated by the church in Gambella, Ethiopia. Months later, he was reunited with his family, and they made the journey to the Gambella refugee camp.
Not content at being a “waiting” refugee, John wanted to make a difference through his calling as a teacher. He learned that the camps were providing elementary and middle school classes to the refugees. But preschool children were being educationally neglected. They were left to the boredom and tedium of mundane refugee camp life. Soon, John was making proposals to camp leadership to establish preschools. He proposed using fellow camp volunteers as teachers, thus giving them purpose in their waiting. The proposal was approved, but with no resources for school supplies or materials. John’s dream was not to be thwarted. Classes were held under trees. ABCs were taught in the dirt with sticks. Soon, 400 children were enrolled in schools in two different camps. The Outreach Foundation supplied funds for paper, pencils, blackboards, chalk, and other supplies and equipment.
Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. Church sponsors helped build stick and mud classrooms for protection during the rainy season. More volunteer teachers stepped forward. And John launched more schools. In fact, he began offering adult literacy classes because he learned that many of the parents couldn’t read or write themselves. Parents and their children were learning side by side.
The effects have been profound. Children are learning their ABCs, which in turn is an encouragement to the parents. One parent stated, “Even though the situation in refugee camps is not good, this children’s education program encourages us… There are many needs in the refugee camps, but children’s education is the most important one above all needs.” The schools are changing lives, bringing hope to those in the refugee camps. A mother of four children in the school commented, “We all pray that if God wills and support of the schools continues, we will have even more encouragement that there is a future for us.”
And it is not just the children that are benefitting. Adults can now spell their names and read, thanks to the adult literacy program. Others are feeling a sense of purpose instead of sitting idly in the camps. “Now the school and my daughter have encouraged me to volunteer and devote my time to teaching the children,” said John Yien Paul, father of three children in the school program. “I have decided to teach voluntarily without any thought of support or pay.” One small child, Kuey Tot, lost his leg in the war and is living in the camp. Despite his extremely compromised mobility, he walks with crutches to meet with John Yien Paul for help with his school work. “I felt so sorry when I looked at him, but the boy is very courageous to learn even though it is difficult for him to walk so far.”
God gives each person gifts and talents. John Jock has used his gifts to bring hope to people who might otherwise be hopeless. In three refugee camps in Ethiopia, a small group of volunteers are changing the world. Thanks be to God.
Mission Advocate, The Outreach Foundation
For more information on Rebuilding Hope in South Sudan, click HERE.