Determined young Sudanese refugee puts her education ahead of marriage

Telling the Human Story, 8 May 2013

© UNHCR/P.Rulashe
Aida (right) and her grandmother, who thinks she should get married soon.

YUSUF BATIL REFUGEE CAMP, South Sudan, May 8 (UNHCR) Just over a year ago, Aida Budjut's determination to continue with her education ran into stiff opposition from her grandmother, who believed that the 16-year-old should get married and bear children.

But Aida, a refugee from Sudan, would not be swayed and with the support of a powerful and progressive ally her father she is winning the argument. The teenager recently started a six-month course that prepares non-English speakers to learn the language and eventually teach primary school students in English.

She was one of 400 refugees in South Sudan camps accepted for the course by the Windle Trust International, a UNHCR partner, and has also started working as a kindergarten teacher in Yusuf Batil refugee camp after completing a one-month early childhood development, or ECD, course. UNHCR places great importance on giving refugees access to education, especially for females.

But although Aida is earning the equivalent of US$250 a month to help her family, her granny, Rajab, is still not convinced. "My grandmother thought that because I had attended the course, I would be satisfied and make myself available for marriage," says Aida, "but she does not understand what it is I want."

Aida explains that she does not want to end up being trapped in an early marriage and dependent on her husband, like so many other young women she knows. To date, she has turned down three suitors. "Who will marry her if she keeps turning down marriage proposals?" her grandmother complains.

It's a refrain that the young woman had become used to after months alone with 60-year-old Rajab in Yusuf Batil camp. The whole family had fled their village in Sudan's Blue Nile state in late 2011 after it became a target in conflict between the Sudanese armed forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North.

Aida and Rajab became separated from the rest of the family and made their way to South Sudan and Yusuf Batil alone. Worried about how she was going to provide for her grandchild, Rajab sincerely believed that only marriage would provide the girl with financial security.

To escape her grandmother's nagging, Aida took to exploring the camp of almost 38,000 people and looking for something to do or study. Then one day her parents and siblings showed up in the camp and things began to change. "I was so happy to see my parents, not only because they were alive," she says, "but also because my father disagreed with my grandmother's insistence that I marry."

Not long after the family reunion, Aida was walking to the market in Yusuf Batil when she came across what looked like a group of people studying in one of the camp schools. On closer inspection, she realized that they were people of her age who were taking part in a workshop for kindergarten teachers.

"I would not leave the school compound until the trainer told me to join the group because I was distracting the class," she recalls. "It was like being back in school. I was so excited," she added of the month-long ECD course.

Meanwhile, she is enjoying the UNHCR-funded Windle Trust teacher training course and is confident of doing well. Like most of the other students on the course, she grew up studying in Arabic, but must now master English, the main language of study in South Sudan.

"It may not be a continuation of my secondary schooling in the conventional sense," Aida says, "but it is definitely contributing to my lifelong goal of learning English and becoming a teacher." The students, all non-English speakers, are taught to use visual, audio and body language techniques of instruction.

"Any non-English speaker can be trained to, by the end of the programme, teach English at, in this case, primary school level," explains Windle Trust's Deborah Namukwaya, who manages the UNHCR-supported teacher-training programme in refugee camps around Upper Nile state's Maban County.

On completion of the training programme, new teachers like Budjut will teach classes of 40 to 50 schoolchildren. At the end of 2012, about 20,000 children were enrolled in schools in Maban County's four refugee camps, which together host some 116,000 refugees. A fifth camp has just been opened.

Meanwhile, Rajab is no longer insisting that Aida get married immediately, but she thinks she should at least find a husband before she turns 20.

By Pumla Rulashe in Yusuf Batil Refugee Camp, South Sudan




UNHCR country pages

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

Donate to this crisis

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

The signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the army of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement on 9 January, 2005, ended 21 years of civil war and signaled a new era for southern Sudan. For some 4.5 million uprooted Sudanese – 500,000 refugees and 4 million internally displaced people – it means a chance to finally return home.

In preparation, UNHCR and partner agencies have undertaken, in various areas of South Sudan, the enormous task of starting to build some basic infrastructure and services which either were destroyed during the war or simply had never existed. Alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is also putting into place a wide range of programmes to help returnees re-establish their lives.

These programs include road construction, the building of schools and health facilities, as well as developing small income generation programmes to promote self-reliance.

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
South Sudan: Four Years On from IndependencePlay video

South Sudan: Four Years On from Independence

In 2011 the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence. Four years later, the world's newest nation is one of the world's worst humanitarian situations. In December 2013, conflict erupted displacing 2 million people including more than 600,000 refugees. South Sudanese has fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. The crisis has especially impacted the next generation of South Sudanese, 70% of those displaced are children.
South Sudan Crisis: One Year OnPlay video

South Sudan Crisis: One Year On