Overgrown bushes and whitewashed buildings are telltale signs of a lot of time having passed since the school bell last rang to signal the start of yet another day of conventional rote learning.
Today however, a different kind of learning is taking place in the dark, electricity-lacking classrooms.
Youth from Malakal town and their peers staying at the protection site for displaced persons are in the process of acquiring a range of vocational skills. They are embarking on this road to entrepreneurship thanks to interventions by the UN peacekeeping mission’s Relief, Reintegration and Protection section.
For the last three months, 22-year-old Flora Akol has frequently made her way into town to learn about solar and electrical connections
“I hope to be able to become an electrician either in the protection site or in town – wherever the business is good for me,” she says.
Behind her, her classmates are standing behind a board, learning how to make solar connections, guided by peacekeepers from the Indian battalion based here.
More than a hundred youth have been braving harsh rainy season weather conditions to soak up the necessary know-how in professional fields as diverse as hairdressing, tailoring, brick laying, carpentry and solar and electrical connections.
The training programme is funded by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and implemented by the National Relief and Development Corps (NRDC), with a bit of help from subject matter specialists belonging to the UNMISS Indian battalion.
NRDC Program Coordinator Edith Atieno Obongo explains the intricacies of organizing the training.
“It was difficult at first getting the youth interested in the program. Many of those in the protection site were reluctant to sign up for a training in town,” she says. “It took a lot of convincing, but in the end, it paid off. This has been a very successful project and we are glad to have run this training on behalf of UNMISS.”
An enthusiastic Nyok Achuil Them has lived in Malakal for a few years now, but hasn’t been able to earn a living in a town that is only slowly recovering from years of conflict. Now, however, she is hopeful.
“I have learned how to make beds, drawers, cupboards, tables and many other things from wood. Now I will start my own business in town. The only challenge will be bringing materials from Juba, but we will manage.”
Upon completion, trainees will be given starter kits to set up activities geared towards promoting entrepreneurship in their communities. “Besides the obvious benefits, there are other intangible things they are learning here, such as social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. This is important for their return and reintegration into community,” says Cosmas Ba-Ana Itenebe, an UNMISS Relief, Reintegration and Protection Officer involved in the project.
The UN peacekeeping mission is now hoping to replicate the promising Malakal experience in other parts of the Upper Nile region.