“The biggest thing I'll celebrate in our first year of independence is the restoration of peace. Freedom is like a dark cloud being lifted from over our heads. Being free means everything to me. Now there are streets lights and we are free to walk outside in the evening.”
Tabu Enike, 16, South Sudanese student
Free education, career prospects and freedom are some of the things South Sudan’s youth are celebrating as the first anniversary of the newly independent state approaches. Many children remain optimistic despite dire economic and political forecasts for the troubled infant state, saying they have their fingers crossed for a better future, according to an opinion poll conducted by global children’s rights charity Plan International.
Adam Modi, 16, is a grade seven pupil at Gudele Model Primary School in South Sudan’s capital Juba, and he wants to become an optician. Adam’s father is half blind and the fact that he has not been able to get medical services for many years has bothered Adam all his life.
“My father visited many hospitals a few years ago, but his efforts came to nothing due to more than two decades of civil war that dashed any hopes for decent medical care in this country," says Adam. "My father gave up seeking medical help and he learnt to live with the fact that he's half blind.”.
But as South Sudan celebrates its first year of independence, Adam is cautiously optimistic that finally his father might regain full sight as the government moves, albeit at a slow pace, to shore up the health delivery service in the country of more than eight million people.
“If the new government does not help my father, then I will have to do it myself when I become an optician. I also want to help other people who cannot access adequate healthcare,” Adam says.
For Adam, good healthcare is a top priority; he also feels that good infrastructure, education and security are key to the growth and development of South Sudan.
Another young South Sudanese Tabu Enike, 16, is studying hard. She wants to become a government minister so that she can play a part in the governance of a country that is still so troubled after many years of civil war.
“Ministers are the decision makers and I know therefore that if I was to be a minister in parliament I would be able to, for example, help orphans and poor people, especially children”, she says. “The biggest thing I will celebrate in our first year of independence is the restoration of peace. Freedom is like a dark cloud that has been lifted over our heads. Being free means everything to me. Now there are streets lights and we are now free to walk outside in evening.”
During more than two decades of civil war, schools were destroyed and many young people were forced to join the war as child soldiers. Others fled the country into neighbouring states where they were housed in refugee camps with little or no education facilities. South Sudan has one of the world lowest literacy rates in the world, at just 27%. John Soro, 21, should be in his third year at university but is still in year six at Mirikio Primary School, just but one of many young South Sudanese who are celebrating the fact that they are now able to return to school - and he seems unfazed by his delayed education.
“The government has brought free education since independence and this has allowed me to come back to school,” says John. “Knowledge is the key to changing South Sudan. I applaud non-governmental organizations such as Plan International for complementing government efforts in the area of education by building classrooms. Just as my country has also gotten independence late, I will also have to make sure I succeed." Other young people and children who took part in the opinion poll, involving more than 50 children and youth in South Sudan, hope to find jobs after completing their education, but the prospects of transitioning into the job market remain hollow unless the economy grows.
But Hilde Johnson, the United Nations Special Representative to South Sudan, this week shed a more pessimistic light on the state.“The situation in South Sudan remains dire unless the international community unlocks more financial support to the country and unless oil production is resumed. Security is also key to the success of South Sudan," she said. Plan International’s Acting Country Director in South Sudan, Gerald Magashi, agreed. He believes that for South Sudan to realize long term peace and stability, the country needs to concentrate its efforts on building the confidence of Sudan's youth – but says there are grave threats to security due to the troubled relationship between North and South Sudan.
“All these high hopes for the world’s newest nation have yet to materialise. One year on from independence, South Sudan is facing violent conflict with its northern neighbour, Sudan, while struggling to cope with an influx of returnees with unaccompanied children fleeing the north and an unfolding food crisis.
“If we want long term peace and stability in the region we need to concentrate our efforts building the capacity of Sudan's youth. The international community must invest in giving young people skills and jobs. Viable and stable livelihoods will help this new generation build their own country and steer them away from the risks of inter-ethnic fighting.”
For more information, please contact Regis Nyamakanga on +254 712 205 860 or Jane Labous on + 44 (0)7540 048494