It was a privilege to be part of the Nuer community conference in June. The conference covered and provided training over a range of topics from mental health, to conflict management, AOD and community development initiatives.
Guest speakers included Mayor, Cr Roz Blades from City of Greater Dandenong, the Victorian Police and service providers (including ADRA on the programs offered at our Springvale centre). One of the highlights was hearing stories from the field whereby people’s lives had been impacted through ADRA in South Sudan – not only through disaster relief but through employment opportunities.
Tito’s story is very moving as he overcame the immense hardship of war to rebuild not only his life but transform the lives of others around him – both in South Sudan and now in the Victorian Police. A true hero.
Early 1996, I left the refugee camp where I had been studying in Ethiopia, because I was homesick. My age is uncertain and I was somewhere between 14 and 16 at the time, and just halfway through Grade 6. Shortly after that my relationship with ADRA began and twenty three years later, I regard myself as a member of the ADRA family.
The second Sudanese civil war was in full throttle, people moving from one place to another, avoiding the conflict hotspots. I joined my family in Mading, a small seasonal town, a few hours drive from the Ethiopian border, along a dirt road. Mading had an airstrip and everything was supplied by UN agencies, including ADRA.
There was one primary school in the centre of the town. With no classrooms or offices, everything was conducted under trees. The school provided up to Grade 4.
The headmaster was a Year 12 graduate from Sudan and the other four teachers were Grades 8 or 9 graduates. I volunteered what little I knew and became the youngest teacher, given Grades 1 and 2, with about 55 students in each group.
ADRA administered the education aspect and worked closely with UNICEF. As Southern Sudan refused to adopt the Sudanese education system, the curriculum and syllabus were borrowed from Kenya.
While Mading is a small town, the settlement spread into neighbouring smaller villages. A small creek/swamp separated Mading from one of these villages and during the rainy season, it became impassable for younger school children so I approached the headmaster about opening another school.
The town administrator – now an Australian living in Melbourne – and the headmaster approved and I offered up to Grade 3, with an assistant who helped with Grade 1.
Like Mading, school ran under the trees. Rain meant the kids went home.
News spread quickly. ADRA and Unicef learned about it and pledged their full support. They visited me numerous times. I even received a nicely typed letter in an envelope from a Unicef director thanking me… It was the first letter I’d ever received.
Through ADRA’s advocating for me, I attended a teachers’ training course, Certificate I in teaching. On the first day the local school authority dropped my name from the list of prospective trainees. Their reason was that the class was full. I was surprised but there was nothing I could do. They were all soldiers and were not known for having great complaint handling systems. There must have been many dynamics at play and due to my age, I was the easy target.
ADRA’s program coordinator Santos, got on the long range radio and requested extra resources such as textbooks, uniforms and food from ADRA’s Nairobi office.
This creating an extra position in the course so I could attend. After three months, I graduated top of the class. Over the next two years, I went on to complete Certificates II and III.
I loved teaching- making a difference in kids lives gave me purpose. Some of those children I taught went on to complete their school studies in neighbouring countries. A good number are now senior officials in the Government of South Sudan or working with aid agencies. It’s satisfying. They still call me ‘teacher. ’
But I never forget it was only possible because others gave me a chance. UNICEF and ADRA provided basic materials without which the school could not have functioned. Their support and encouragement motivated and inspired me. I was just a young man but I was given opportunity to contribute to community development initiatives, exchanging ideas with big people.
In April 1998, Santos nominated me to be trained as a trainer and after three months I was training some who even had higher educational qualifications, in creating curriculum and lesson plans. ADRA paid me $USD100 per month to train the teachers. It was a load of money!
In January 2000, I managed to get out of Mading to Kakuma Refugee Camp where I continued my primary school, from Grades 7 to 9.
I arrived in Australia early 2003 and completed my VCE in 2005.
I hope one day to meet Santos again and thank him for the great work he did with ADRA, and his personal support for my educational development.
Tito Tut Pal