Rebuilding Hope in South Sudan - April 2017 Update

John Jock, far right, and fellow teachers

John Jock, far right, and fellow teachers

South Sudan has been in crisis since December 2013 because of a civil war which has devastated the land, killed tens of thousands of people, and driven millions into Internally Displaced Person camps inside the country or into refugee camps outside the country. The Outreach Foundation has re-framed our mission with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) to rebuild hope among the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to camps in Ethiopia.  

One of those refugees is John Jock Gatwech. I met him in 2013 when he was a teacher at the leading school of the PCOSS, Good Shepherd School in Malakal. John also worked in the Department of Education of the PCOSS. In addition to being trained as an educator, he has also studied theology.

The next time I met John Jock was in Gambella, Ethiopia in 2015. He had fled for his life when the civil war reached Malakal, headquarters of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan. Living in Gambella with an uncle, John had no income and had lost most of his belongings. But John wanted to make a difference through his calling as a teacher. 

After we met John Jock on our initial visit to the refugee camps, he sent us a proposal to establish preschools in three of the parishes of the PCOSS that had been established in the camps. The target group would be almost 400 children. Additionally, adult literacy classes would be started. All the classes would be taught by volunteer teachers. 

The program began in August 2015. Classes were held under trees as it was the dry season. The Outreach Foundation provided funds to supply the children with paper, notebooks, pencils, and crayons. We also equipped the teachers with blackboards, chalk, chairs, tables, and a token “thank you gift” in appreciation of their service. Later on we provided simple uniforms for the children to give them an identity, “I am a student.”

We returned to the refugee camps in May 2016 to see how the schools were going. The project was a success beyond imagining. Three year-olds were learning their ABC’s. Adults were writing their names for the first time. The churches in one place were building stick and mud classrooms for the coming rainy season. Education had energized the people in these camps! John Jock has been fulfilling his calling as a teacher.

A family impacted by the schools in the refugee camps

A family impacted by the schools in the refugee camps

Recently, we asked John Jock to interview some families whose children have been impacted by the education program he has set up in the camps. We want to tell you about one of the families. John Yien Pual and Rebecca Nyabol Jing Chuol are parents of three daughters, Nyaboth, Nyaduoth and Nyabhan. They attend a preschool located in the Kule 2 Refugee Camp. 

Rebecca, the girls’ mother was the first to speak. “I have experienced a lot from my children when they come after school and show me what they are learning. From nothing my children now know to write ABCDE from A to Z completely.” 

John Yien Pual, the father, was trained as a lawyer and worked in the government of Upper Nile State Malakal before the civil war. “What makes this school different from those run by other organizations in the refugee camps,” says Mr. Pual, “is that the teachers in the church-based schools are fully committed. In fact, with the encouragement of my daughter I have decided to volunteer as a teacher.”

Mr. John Yien Paul concluded, “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.” The two older children also spoke of their dreams. Nyaboth and Nyaduoth, aged six, are twins. Nyaboth wants to be a doctor; Nyaduoth said she is going to be teacher.  

Volunteers in the preschools and adult learners at night

Volunteers in the preschools and adult learners at night

Besides teachers and learners, there are other volunteers who do school-related tasks to aid the program. Mrs. Rebecca Nyater Hoth, who has a daughter in the schools, shared her excitement about the church-based schools: “We praise God for the progress of our children’s school. I provide them with clean drinking water because the school doesn’t have any {water supply}. I am an adult student in the same school in the evening time. Now I am in class three in English. I have also learned Nuer language. Now I am reading my Bible in Nuer Language because of this school. This school is very important; it is better to learn than to sit idly in the Camp. Now I am encouraging others ladies to come to school.“ 

When so much is going wrong in South Sudan, it is a huge encouragement to see the impact of education in the refugee camps in Ethiopia. There is an inspirational quote that captures the spirit at work in John Jock Gatwech: “One person…committed to a worthy cause…fully engaged…can change the world.” 

John Jock has become fully engaged in this worthy cause of bringing hope and learning to fellow refugees. The larger “world” of South Sudan may still be a world of non-peace. For three refugee camps in Ethiopia, however, John Jock and his team are changing that world.

Jeff Ritchie
Mission Advocate    

Read more about Rebuilding Hope in South Sudan by clicking HERE.

Outreach is seeking gifts totaling $100,000 to address needs requested by the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan: Bibles, hymnals, education, trauma healing, and emergency relief.