South Sudan children speak out in new report
By Charles Okwir
Save the Children South Sudan launched its much anticipated 'Hear It from The Children' report which features voices of children in war zones articulating the value of education, and challenging their government and humanitarian organizations to ensure that their educational needs are prioritized alongside other emergency interventions like food, shelter, and health.
The 42-page report was officially launched in the capital Juba by South Sudan's Minister of Education, Science, and Technology, Hon. John Gai Yoh. The official launch was preceded by the screening of a powerful 3-minute video of children talking about the value of education, as well as their hopes and aspirations. The 80-plus guests from national and state-level ministries, the United Nations, the humanitarian and donor community, and from national and international NGOs who packed Munuki Hall at Juba Grand Hotel in the capital Juba watched the video in total silence. Many were left speechless, with a few visibly wearing sombre faces.
In his remarks at the launch of the report, the Minister of Education, Hon. John Gai Yoh ably captured the impact the of video when he said, "…the children of South Sudan are not talking to partners - they are talking to their government", adding that, "…in conflict, education is a tool that can be used to stop war, and our children are saying we cannot continue like this."
Also present at the launch of the report was the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in South Sudan, Ms Ellen Margrethe Løej, who underscored the value of investing in children's education. "If we invest in children, we invest in a brighter future for South Sudan", said Ms Løej, before pointing out that the report in fact "highlights the fact that education is a protection issue."
Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children's CEO who flew in from London for the launch said, "it is truly humbling when children asking for education are from the most conflict-affected communities in South Sudan", she said, adding that, "…these children have challenged us to go back to the drawing board and come up with better ways of responding to their most critical needs in times of conflict."
The report revealed that as many as 28% of the children interviewed ranked education as their top priority – beating health, shelter, food, and water. One of the most powerful quotes in the report came from a 10 year old boy who lives in an internally displaced peoples camp in Mahad: "…we want to learn – even during war." he said. Mr Peter Walsh, Save the Children's Country Director in South Sudan echoed the 10 year old boy's sentiments when he said, "children instinctively know what is good for them, and as adults, we must respect that…we must allow them to dream of doing the impossible."
The media coverage that the launch of the report attracted ensured that its impact was felt far beyond South Sudan's borders. In less than 24hrs, a total of 115,514 people had come into contact with 'Hear It from The Children' report on BBC Africa's Facebook page – with many engaging more deeply with constructive comments. Save the Children South Sudan's Twitter account @SCSouthSudan also saw a flurry of activity, with hundreds engaging in debate under the hashtag #HearItFromTheChildren.
According to Save the Children CEO, Ms Jasmine Whitbread, the report "…reinforces a fundamental truth about the universal value of education – and it is that regardless of where a child is born, they know that their future success and prosperity depends on education."