Higher Learning in South Sudan

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For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a education feature for a Norwegian magazine called Global Knowledge. It was a fascinating opportunity to examine the unique history and current standing of Juba University. This post includes some print and photographic excerpts. I look forward to sharing the full story when it’s published later this month.

In 1989, as civil war intensified throughout southern Sudan, the governing body of Juba University arrived at a controversial decision. In a few short weeks, a small staff and modest student body abandoned their campus in the southern town of Juba and traveled 1,600 kilometers north to Khartoum, the national capital of an increasingly divided country. “We arrived to find some tents and basic shelters that had been built for us,” recalls Samuel Lewa, a staff member who took part in the move. “Like so many southerners, we at the university were also displaced.”

Two years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended major hostilities between the north and south in 2005, Juba University began the formal process of returning to its original grounds. In 2007, after nearly twenty years in exile, the institution returned to a region, town and campus that were vastly different than what they left behind.

The University’s return comes during a critical period in southern Sudan’s history. In 2011, southerners are scheduled to vote in a referendum that will determine whether the south remains united with the north or becomes an independent country. Vice Chancellor Aggrey Abate believes that as the south considers independence, the issue of education is vital. “We face many development challenges in the south,” he says. “Let me tell you that education is linked to every one of them.”

The return of the University presents both tremendous opportunities and daunting challenges. Enrollment rates continue to increase annually with some 21,000 students currently enrolled in a combination on-campus and distance learning programs. Through perseverance and development, the University has vastly increased and diversified its available courses of study, which now include twelve colleges and five specialized learning centers. Its renewed presence in the south encourages a wider cross section of local society to pursue higher education.

The return is not without challenges. The campus, which remains largely as it was when it opened in 1977, is insufficient for the vast enrollment increase. “When we left in 1989, the student population was about 800,” says Vice Chancellor Abate. “With such a large increase in students, space has become an urgent issue.” Furthermore, many of the facilities remain in disrepair following nearly twenty years of insufficient maintenance. “This lab was built in 1976,” a teaching assistant in the chemistry department says. “Many things are no longer functional.”

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Pete

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by stories. Through much of my life, I satisfied this interest with the study of history. The topics of war, uprising, social movements and sexuality defined my course of historical study and generated a deep curiosity in the modern aspects of these issues. While the past enthralls me, my interest in creating modern primary documents ultimately won out. Since 2005, I have worked to document the individual consequences of war, poverty and social unrest. Through a combination of photography, text, and audio recordings, I hope to illustrate broader issues through individual stories. I aim to create images and material that demand consideration for the lives of those depicted. I believe that intimate, sensitive photographs leave indelible marks on the conscience and actively oppose the sterilization of human suffering.

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