School children in Malakal are all smiles. UNMISS peacekeepers from Rwanda have rebuilt their kitchen and installed fuel-efficient stoves to facilitate cooking.
“Bring us cooking oil!”
The group of girls breaks out into giggles as the tall 12-year-old Nyanluak Nyok shouts out boldly.
Nyanluak and her classmates are pupils at the John Garang Primary School in Malakal town. They have gathered to give us a tour of their newly renovated kitchen and its blossoming garden.
Rwandan peacekeepers have rebuilt the kitchen, installing their trademark fuel-efficient Rondereza stoves and adding a vegetable garden that will boost an already existing school-feeding program.
“It used to be very demanding for us, cooking for all the children. We needed a lot of time, a lot of firewood and a lot of effort,” says Munybich Peter, a teacher at the school.
It turns out that this, challenging as it was, would have been on a lucky day.
“There was no roof and the walls were falling apart, so when the weather was bad we would sometimes not be able to provide lunch at all."
John Garang Primary school has more than 800 pupils. The school was reopened in late 2016, when a semblance of peace returned to Malakal, the second largest town in South Sudan, some 600 kilometers north of the capital Juba.
It is one of a handful of functional schools in a region that relies heavily on the support of UN agencies such as UNICEF, other humanitarian organizations and now the UN mission in South Sudan. The school-feeding program is a humanitarian intervention aimed at encouraging enrolment and retainment of students who otherwise would have been likely to skip learning and get involved in income-generating activities for their sustenance.
“When we reopened in 2016 we had about 450 students. When we started the feeding program, as you can see, the number doubled in just over one year,” says Munybich.
“Sometimes we get food at home, other times we don’t, but at least we know that in school we will eat food every day,” says 11-year old Achuei Monyluak.
Rondereza, which means “to economize” in Kinyarwanda, is the name given to the fuel-efficient stoves that are molded using readily available materials such as clay, grass and water. The stoves help reduce the environmental degradation brought about by extensive cutting of trees for firewood, or by using charcoal.
Rwandan peacekeepers have previously taught women living in the protection site and in Malakal town how to build their own stoves for domestic use, a move aimed at reducing incidents of violence sometimes suffered by those collecting firewood.
“It is gratifying and reassuring to see such initiatives because this is related to human security and a sign of the positive difference we are making in people’s lives,” says the UN mission’s Force Commander Lt. Gen. Frank Mushyo Kamanzi.
He is confident that the Rwandan simple, replicable and durable solution will have a long-lasting impact.
“It is no coincidence that this initiative has started in a school, because this way the children will carry this experience with them to their homes, and in future it will sustain this country and everything we are building.”