The plight of South Sudanese students in Ethiopia

By Elbow Chuol

Opinion 

South Sudanese students in an unidentified location in South Sudan (File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

February 9th 2019 (Nyamilepedia) -South Sudan – the world’s youngest nation – entered its sixth year of brutal civil war. Nearly 400 thousands people killed, nearly half of South Sudan’s twelve millions population internally displaced as famine threatens to kill and more than 2 million seeking asylum in neighbouring countries.

The revitalized peace deal signed in September last year seems to be dragging its feet.  Although public appearance of rival leaders signals end to war, the seriousness of the political parties to make this peace successful is yet to be seen. No much progress is taking place. The international partners are reluctant to dispense funds for the implementation.

While for the last five years of brutal civil war, the government of South Sudan relentlessly continues to send hundreds of students overseas each year on the scholarship programs. Little is known of the hardship of those South Sudanese students living in the refugee camps across East Africa and particularly in Ethiopia.

This article focused on the situation of the South Sudanese students in Ethiopia and the roles played by Mentorship and Tutoring Program (MTP) and several volunteer non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Western Ethiopia putting their efforts together in order to help the refugee students meet their educational needs.

While Mentorship and Tutoring Program is not taken notice of, its sphere of influence is felt by the grade 10th and grades 12th students and the graduates taking advantage of the organisation’s services.

According to UNHCR 2018 reports on “Ethiopia Country Refugee Response Plan 2018”, “with continued refugee arrivals, and in light of ongoing verification taking place as part of Level 3 registration throughout the year, it is anticipated that Ethiopia will host 919,134 refugees by the end of 2018, mainly from South Sudan (485,000), Eritrea (131,343) and Somali (231,348).” This population put Ethiopia as a second country to Uganda in hosting the largest number of refugee in Africa.

While Ethiopia is leading with a number of countries seeking refuge in her territory if South Sudan civil war continues, there is a possibility the country will overtake Uganda.

Thus, South Sudanese comprised of the highest numbers of refugee in Ethiopia with 55 percent female and 45 percent male, 65 percent of young persons under 18 years, with Adult making up of 34 percent, while youth occupying more than 18 percent (2018, UNHCR Gambella registration Unit).

Challenges facing students

The education sector steady to face challenges with many refugee camps (more than 7) in Western Ethiopia hosting South Sudanese doesn’t even have a high school. Building schools to meet education emergency needs continue to be a big challenge due to funding inadequacy. This left many young people which made up the second highest percentage in the refugee camps idle. Making crimes to be more prime. Trauma on other hand is increasing at an alarming rate. Thus, many students find it impossible to find opportunity available to citizens in Gambella town.

Though DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative), a scholarship program through ARRA (administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs) helping refugee students who completed high school in their home countries to prepare for Ethiopia National Examination for Grade 12th, many students keep failing their exam each year with nearly less than one percent passing their papers. This is because they lacked the necessary preparation like tuition and mentoring strategy to prepare them to pass their exams.

In July 2017, Mentorship and Tutoring Program (MTP) was founded with a purpose to tutoring students and young graduates by developing them professionally. The organisation has two sessions each year; summer and winter classes. Filling this loopholes for both the refugee students and the citizens who are preparing for grade 8th, 10th, and 12th national examination by providing these services in Gambella town and the surrounding during the summer classes of recently harvested far much better results.

The organisation which is fully registered as a non-profit organisation draws it volunteer teachers from new graduates who have not yet find jobs, and those who come home during the summer and winter holiday.

Reading materials

Many students from various camps across Western Ethiopia preparing for DAFI, scholarship don’t have enough money to buy reading materials or attends proper tuition to prepare for the exams. By 2018 the MTP entered to close this loophole and the passing percentage increase by 238 percentage.

In 2018, 18 out of 22 students in Gambella town who took advantage of the initiative track their grade 12th examination with an increase of 82 percent. In Matar surrounding area 120 students matriculate and 89 passed their exams (74%). In Itang and its surrounding 18 students joined the MPT and 12 out of 18 made it (67%).

To say the least, out of 160 students who enrolled for MTP classes in the entire Gambella region last year during the summer and winter session 119 passed their exams (238%). All these were possible through the sacrifice and services materials like making use of texts books and tuition provided by the MTP.

While giant organisation like UNHCR, ARRA, DAFI, and a tiny organization like Mentoring and Tutoring Programs continue to make a difference in the lives of the South Sudanese refugee in Western Ethiopia, more funding is needed to help them change life and facilitate education as a possible option for refugee in transforming their lives outside their home country.

Last month, the Ethiopia government make a giant leap of refugee reintegration by allowing the refugee to seeks and work in Ethiopia like the citizens. This opportunity will open a door for South Sudanese students in refugee camps who may not have proper opportunity to attends MTP classes.

The author,  Elbow Chuol, a concerned South Sudan citizen, can be reached via: elbow.chuolyier@gmail.com


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