Children in the designated Peace Village of Kuron in Eastern Equatoria enjoy their primary school.
“I want the children of this primary school to know it is possible to live with people from different clans as one. Just like I was privileged to experience during my youth,” explains retired Bishop Paride Taban.
Growing up in the tranquil town of Katire in Eastern Equatoria, Paride thought life everywhere was like this haven, where residents from several ethnic groups lived and worked together like a family. To his dismay, he quickly discovered that people in many other towns led lives plagued by discrimination and tribalism. His disillusionment soon turned into a determination to make a difference.
“I wanted to create an area where people from all places and walks of life could live in harmony.”
The result of his wish to change things for the better is there for all to see: the Kuron Peace Village, which he founded in 2005. In 2013, Taban’s efforts were globally recognized as he was awarded the Sergio Vieira de Mello United Nations Peace Prize.
He hasn’t looked back since. What started out with a population of 18 adults has grown into a thriving community of more than 3,000 people, largely supported by humanitarian organizations. Situated near the Kuron River, the village continues to invest in educating youth to become agents of change, for a South Sudan devoid of tribal tensions.
“We will continue to support your selfless efforts to achieve harmonious co-existence between children of different ethnicities in South Sudan,” said Caroline Waudo, the representative of the United Nations peacekeeping mission’s field office in Torit.
Such assistance was evident when Ms. Waudo and the United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, paid a joint visit to the role model community. Together, they donated blankets, bedsheets, mosquito nets, school uniforms, among others, to the primary school located in the village.
More than a decade after its establishment, the St Thomas primary school, which started under a tree in the late 1990s, continues to encourage its keen learners to live together as one people, regardless of their ethnic origins.
With a current student population of 427 boys and girls aged between 7 and 22 years, wards of the primary school are made up of the Jie, Murle, Dinka, Nuer, Madi, Katiko, Acholi and Toposa tribes.
“I like being here. I am having the opportunity to continue studying after getting married and having two children,” says 19-year-old Anna Nadapal, who wants to become a nurse.
The popularity of the place is such that younger children often accompany their older siblings to school. To keep them busy and cared for, a kindergarten has been set up for those between three and six years of age.
While the primary school is doing well and the envy of many, challenges are ever present. Securing the necessary funds to renovate classrooms and dormitories is a battle, as is the quest for resources to build a secondary school for its graduates.
Other difficulties are of a non-financial nature: preventing students from dropping out during harvest seasons, and convincing parents to let their daughters attend classes. As a result, more than 75 per cent of the pupils are still boys.
“Some parents prefer to exchange their daughters for cows. However, we have started sensitizing the communities [on the importance of education for all] by engaging our female students,” says Atanga Mark Sebit, the school’s head teacher.
“It takes time to change the minds of people, but I’m happy to see that it is slowly happening. We want to see you grow up and live together, to co-exist together,” Margaret Itto, Torit’s deputy governor tells the students gathered to greet the visitors.
”You are the people who are going to shape our country.”