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Teacher’s calling eclipses the trauma of conflict

South Sudan Education and Peacebuilding Project transforms communities

by Leisa Wagstaff | for Mission Crossroads

Daniel Omot Nyingwo is one of the PC(USA) scholarship recipients at Yei Teacher Training College in South Sudan. (Photo by Shelvis Smith-Mather)

Daniel Omot Nyingwo is one of the PC(USA) scholarship recipients at Yei Teacher Training College in South Sudan. (Photo by Shelvis Smith-Mather)

SOUTH SUDAN – Tears flowed abundantly from Daniel Omot Nyingwo’s eyes, although his society is one in which men do not cry, especially not in public. Overwhelmed with emotion, Daniel said, “I thank God for choosing me to become a teacher.”

Daniel’s display of sincerity reverberated throughout the academic year-end gathering as many of his classmates nodded their heads in agreement. All eight of the South Sudan Education and Peacebuilding Project’s teacher training scholarship recipients had just returned from their first year of studies. By any standards, the year had been downright difficult: full of new experiences and adjustments, and living without and missing family. For Daniel and three other students, these challenges were similar to those they had lived with most of their lives in one of the most marginalized areas of South Sudan. Decades of civil war between Sudan’s Khartoum-based government in the north, rebel forces in the south and inter-ethnic conflict have left Daniel’s native Anuak people in Pochalla simply trying to survive.

Pochalla itself is isolated, without road access, especially during the rainy season. Commodities are either ferried by bicycles from neighboring Ethiopia (8-10 hours one way) or by air from South Sudan’s capital city at exorbitant prices. Health care services, functioning water points, and other basic services are limited. Without phone service or Internet coverage, communication with family members throughout the school year depends on hand-carried messages to and from the area.
Pochalla natives, like most South Sudanese, have had few or no educational opportunities for the past 50 years.

During the prolonged conflicts, Daniel had to flee for his life to surrounding countries for three to four years at a time. He was fortunate, though. These periods of refuge and separation from his family and everything familiar provided opportunities for basic education.

From the beginning of his teacher training, Daniel understood there would be difficulties, but he chose not to relinquish the enduring dream of the Pochalla community to provide educational opportunities for its members. However, he knows that for education to become a reality, an intentional, holistic approach must be taken. He understands that a sick child cannot go to school; a hungry learner concentrates only on hunger pains; a pupil without textbooks, pencil and paper disturbs classmates by asking to borrow their supplies; and one who has to walk miles to fetch water and firewood before and after school may nap during lessons.

Daniel and his colleagues do not rest on their two-month school holiday break. Instead, they prepare lessons they will teach, thatch roofs for others, prepare for planting season, encourage parents to send girls to school, and serve as role models. They also collaborate to provide a youth camp to promote peace through tutoring, trauma healing, self-awareness, esteem building and Bible study.

“It is up to us as teachers to be agents of change in our communities,” Daniel adds. “This is a most privileged calling.”
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This article is from the spring 2016 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, a publication of Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe or read archived issues, visit  

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