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South Sudanese students break ethnic boundaries through Peace and Human Rights clubs

Laat Luka and Daniel Deng Joseph in Rumbek belong to different ethnic groups but have become friends forever. Photo: UNMISS/Eric Kanalstein

Students at Abukloi Secondary School in Rumbek, in the Western Lakes region of South Sudan have formed Peace and Human Rights clubs, calling for peace and an end to violence perpetuated by ethnic divisions. Their friendship efforts at school have so far have paid off spectacularly well. Now they are taking aim at creating harmony between their respective home communities as well.

With the support of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Ministry of Education, the clubs were launched back in 2016 to promote peace and push for a change of attitudes between students belonging to different ethnic groups.

At least in some cases, hearts and minds have indeed changed, and quite drastically, too.

Nineteen-year-old Laat Luka says that when he first got to Abukloi Secondary School, he found that he was different from the other students and that they were different from him.

“The first time I met him,” says a beaming Laat Luka, looking up at his friend Daniel Deng Joseph, “I did not know him; but we later got to know each other through our school work. I was good in English and he was good in Mathematics, so he would help me with the numbers and I would help him with verbs.”

His friend is just as happy as Laat about their robust partnership.

“I was really surprised that there is someone who is not from my tribe who can bring me up like this,” Daniel Deng Joseph says and adds:

“Now we do not worry about which tribes we are from,” he said. “We are friends, we are brothers, and we are a family.”

Laat, Daniel and the other students have also been encouraged to act as ‘agents of change’ and relay messages of peace to their families and communities.

“The animosity that engulfed the students is gradually dying out and we now want to make sure that they move towards the community and advocate peace. We want to see the uniqueness of their working and living together within the school being translated to the communities,” explains UNMISS’ Civil Affairs Officer, Gibril Allan Turay.

During a pilot event organised by the UN Mission’s Field Office in Rumbek, students from the peace clubs met with members of the community, including local leaders and women’s groups, to urge warring ethnic groups to reconcile and build durable peace. 

“We have seen the impact of these clubs,” said the former Director General in the Ministry of Education, Agolder Alfred Mathok. “The children are working together, playing together and holding debates.”

Local authorities say that they want to see more schools in the area become ‘zones of peace.’

The Peace and Human Rights clubs at Abukloi Secondary School are the first of their kind, but there is hope that similar clubs can be formed in schools across this war-torn country to help build a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan.

Such enduring harmony has already been established between Laat Luka and Daniel Deng Joseph, as professed by the latter:

“Our friendship is not just at school. We visit each other and play football together. Even our families now know each other. Our friendship is going to last forever.”