THE ROLE OF EDUCATION AMONG PASTORALISTS IN SOUTH SUDAN

Created on Friday, 12 December 2014 06:38

12 December 2014 – (By Fr. Markus Körber & Fr. Martin Loku Mödi) – Comboni Missionaries evangelizing amongst the Mundari community in South Sudan share their experiences and tell of the many positive impacts education can have on people’s life. Comboni missionaries are committed to promote education, to favour access of children to schools, to help women to support the education of their daughters, as well as with the formation of good leaders and civic education.

 

Read full reflection and sharing
Cattle culture and cattle camps play a significant role among many tribes in South Sudan. The country has one of the largest livestock herding populations in Africa. More than 85 per cent of the country’s almost 10 million inhabitants are engaged in the care of livestock. Africa’s newest nation has also some of the world’s worst indicators for education. Half of all primary school-age children are out of school. Dropout rates are very high, and few children make it through to secondary education. Gender disparities are marked at all levels. There are only 600 girls in the last grade of secondary education. And those children who are in school have limited prospects of learning. The school infrastructure is poor, classrooms are overcrowded, and there are chronic shortages of learning materials.
President Salva Kiir stated that education holds the key to South Sudan’s future. It is vital to poverty reduction and the development of strategies aimed at building a peaceful society. The greatest obstacle to effective learning is a shortage of adequately trained and properly supported teachers. South Sudan’s challenges in education cannot be viewed in isolation. High levels of poverty, food insecurity, and parental illiteracy transmit educational disadvantages from parents to children. Many out of school children live in remote rural areas, often in pastoralist communities requiring non-formal learning options. Conflict and insecurity are a perennial threat across large areas of the country. In a nutshell, South Sudan is facing an education emergency.
Many Comboni Missionaries in South Sudan are present among the pastoralists. The Secretariat of Evangelization of the Province has organized several meetings about our commitment among cattle-keepers. In 2012 – after a four days workshop on Comboni and the Pastoralists in South Sudan – we drafted some guidelines for concrete action. Among them was the field of education with proposals like:
•    to promote education by supporting government schools through teacher training;
•    to favour access of children to education in a way that they keep contact to their cultural environment;
•    to help women (e.g. mothers) to support the education of their daughters;
•    to engage in civic education;
•    to educate people for life with particular focus on the formation of good leaders;
I have been working for more than seven years in Tali among the Mundari tribe. The area belongs to Terekeka County which is located in the northern part of Central Equatoria State. It is the state’s largest county and considered the most underdeveloped. Lack of services has led to migration from rural into more settled areas. In recent years, conflicts between Mundari and neighbouring tribes have led to cattle – raiding. The raiding is in part due to competition for grazing lands and use of water points in times of scarcity, but also reflective of wider raiding aimed at accumulating wealth.
In Tali Mission we run pre-school and primary school where Fr. Martin Loku Mödi is director. He has been working in Tali Mission for more than one year after a period of further studies on the topic of education in Nairobi. Fr. Martin is not only a Comboni Missionary but also a son of this land. He views the work of education among pastoralists as follows.

 

Pastoralism according to Mundari perspective
Generally Mundari are pastoralists as well as settlers. They are settled but because of lack of pastures some people have to move with the cows to look for pastures or water at a certain moment in a year, especially in dry season. During the rainy season, they move with the cows in order to look for salty grass in certain areas around the neighboring tribes.
Cows for pastoralists are an income, especially in bringing up children in the family. In other words, cows provide security; any problem that may arise can be solved more easily for a person who has cows. They are a treasure for pastoralists, their survival and prestige, including respect and fame. The more cows a person has the happier he feels His family – especially his children – are respected and well known in the locality and in the surrounding villages. Furthermore, cows are a kept for dowry. Who is without them will neither be respected nor get married. Keeping cows for pastoralists is like school. People do believe in God, but this has been insufficient to curb other problems in life which could be dealt with in accordance with the Christian faith.

 

How does a person get cows?
In a family, girls are sources of cows. They are married with a lot of cows. Therefore girls are protected because they are the sources of income to the family. They are protected until they get married. Besides, people get cows by selling agricultural products and by raiding or stealing them.

 

Formal Education among the pastoralists
Few among the pastoralists have understood the value of education. In a family the boys are divided: one or two go to school and the rest remains at home to take care of the cow. However, in spite of the acceptance for a boy or two to go school, sometimes later on when educational fees are asked in many cases the parents are willing to sell cows to pay educational fees. As a result a boy may get frustrated and leave school because of lack of family support. Cows are a treasure that cannot be discharged easily.  Consequently few boys may go through the whole formal educational process.
However, in spite of all these endeavors, it seems that the educational efforts proved to be less effective simply because the majority of the pastoralists are still illiterate. In other words, more efforts must be exerted into educating the pastoralists because it is the most powerful tool that can change the mind of a person. Education would act as an alternative for the pastoralists in the sense that pastoralism itself is a school in terms of how the children are brought up especially regarding the way they should behave and endure the challenges of life. The law for pastoralists is a jungle law which doesn’t give equity and justice to anybody but means continuous struggle and never easy life.
As a matter of fact, there is a better way of living and better ways of keeping the cows. Therefore, education of the pastoralists would bring transformation of this people’s life into a complete change of behavior, better treatment of each other in terms of respect of properties, practice of honesty and peaceful living. Education instills into our mind a certain way of reasoning and behavior. Educated persons ask the question “why”. In this way, there is an opening up to dialogue and deeper analysis which would definitely lead to a fruitful and peaceful ending of a problem.
Investing on education would help change the attitude of the pastoralists. In other words, there may be other means or possibilities of helping the pastoralists to enhance their lives. Education, however, changes the mindset. As such it frees the person from negative thinking or practices among themselves, for example, cattle raiding which may result into unrest in a village or even killing of each other. Normally “wild behavior” among the pastoralists is simply for the sake of fame. In addition, disrespect for the girls who are treated like commodities in the shop would change. Girls are often treated as objects, not as human beings. Their consent to marry someone of their interest is rarely considered. The father or the family is simply interested in how many cows this girl would bring to the family.
These are the practices among some pastoralists that go against human dignity, especially regarding women or girls. In a family the father in the family decides for a girl. In many cases she lives in her new family almost against her will because she is not allowed to decide or choose for herself.

 

Evangelization among the pastoralists
Pastoralists, in a certain sense, are very religious people. However, due to lack of education, it is not easy to evangelize them. Rarely the word of God takes deep roots in their lives according to my assessment in Tali so far. One factor that contributes to all these problems is their continuous movement. Besides, the major factor in my opinion is lack of education. In matters of faith, pastoralists don’t consider religion as an obligation, and so they remain committed to the cause.