‘Bit by bit,’ teachers chip away at obstacles
June 29, 2019
He looked no more than 14 as he came forward to welcome me with a hearty handshake. Assuming he was a primary school pupil, I asked about his teacher. He responded, “Hello, ma’am. I am the teacher.” Still skeptical, I began a full-scale inquisition: How old are you? How long have you been a teacher? Which class do you teach? And finally: Are you really the teacher?
Ultimately, I heard his life’s journey, one that is all too familiar. Like so many South Sudanese youth, he has struggled for the educational level he has attained: studying in bits and pieces here and there, needing pens and school fees, struggling to hear the teacher’s voice above a growling stomach and, so often, learning while running from one danger or another. Remembering what it was like to yearn for schooling, he explained that he wants to “share the little I have with these children who are just like me.”
At 16, he’s a teacher as well as a secondary school scholar. During the morning, he conducts a classroom, trying to provide the younger ones some of the tools for success: basic academics, lots of encouragement, a few life skills, boundless faith and a sense of belonging. Later in the day, he transitions from teaching to being taught.
“One day,” he said, “I want to be able to do more for my community. This is just a start, and with God’s help, I will change the conditions in which these smaller ones live and learn.” Then he tacked on a common appendage: “when peace comes.”
Like most teachers serving in Presbyterian Church of South Sudan schools, he does not receive a salary. Yet South Sudanese teachers are doing wonderful things as they unselfishly give of themselves. One teacher started a school simply by hanging a battered chalkboard outside of his house door and writing the ABCs and numbers on it. At first, his only pupil was his adult cousin. As people passed by on their way to the market or farm, though, they would stop to observe. Bit by bit, enrollment grew. The school moved from his house to a church. Today, 135 children of all ages crowd into the mud-and-bamboo classrooms, and adult learners gather for afternoon classes.
Learning, though, involves more than the ABCs. At one Internally Displaced Persons camp school, children are learning about perseverance, acceptance of self and others, problem-solving, decision-making, self-expression and what it takes to be a good leader.
But are we making a difference? Recently, the results of the standardized South Sudan Examination Leaving Certificate were released, and many of our Presbyterian teachers, church school communities and parents are seeing the positive results of giving the little that they have. Many schools that are supported by the South Sudan Educational Project are celebrating 100 percent pass rates, and one Presbyterian school is ranked second among all primary schools in the country. This is something to be proud of, and it inspires continued passion for education.
“Bit by bit” is how one teacher sees the process of bringing about education. Perhaps this is the most fitting description of it in a place where there are so many factors against its success. The spirit of “sharing the little I have” and a willingness to struggle will surely one day bring about a true transformation in education and in life.
Leisa Wagstaff, Mission Co-Worker, South Sudan
Today’s Focus: South Sudan
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
God, unite us as the body of Christ. Help us to encourage those who struggle, and show us how to lighten their load. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.