"Space to aspire": Jesuit school in South Sudan
Loyola Secondary School (LSS) in Wau, South Sudan, is a mixed day school established by the East African province of the Society of Jesus in 1982. Civil war forced the school to close two years after opening and it did not re-open until 2008 when 180 students were admitted.
LSS, which is supported by Jesuit Missions, now has a student population of 587, 320 girls and 267 boys, with 35 teachers and six Jesuits working full time. The school started 2017 with 700 students but this declined during a wave of violence in the spring when the school had to close for two weeks and a number of students did not return because their families had fled the area.
"This school serves as a sanctuary for students in an ethnically diverse country, bringing them together for studying and learning," says its principal, Fr Beatus Mauki SJ (in a recent interview for SPICMA which also supports the school).
Despite continuing violence, he says, LSS "has managed to create a unique space where young men and women can dream of a better future and begin to acquire the skills that will help them construct that future."
Fr Mauki trained as a psychiatric counsellor and worked for the Jesuit Refugee Service, so he speaks from experience: "One of the first consequences of trauma is loss of imagination. A traumatized person becomes incapable of imagining a future that is better or different. However, LSS gives students the space to look beyond and aspire to reach their full potential. The school provides an opportunity to enjoy their youthfulness."
Such opportunities are rare in South Sudan, where children are often recruited as child soldiers or have to care for younger siblings, depriving them of their childhood and a right to education.
In order to increase participation in education by girls the school offers partial scholarships to 150 girls. And all girls are provided with sanitary towels each month, which overcomes another barrier to girls’ education.
LSS provides a nutritious breakfast for all students which has boosted attendance as for some of the students this is the only meal of the day. Nearly 60% of students live in refugee camps; some of them have been orphaned by the conflict. Fr Mauki credits this feeding programme with "improving the physical and mental capabilities of students" and "maintaining and promoting above-average academic performance."
But all are affected by the political and economic situation which, says Fr Mauki, "has left many children and young people vulnerable to famine and sickness. Every day students struggle to reach school." And he adds, the quality of education is a critical factor in breaking the poverty cycle. "It is our hope that LSS will provide South Sudan with tomorrow's leaders, men and women who are committed to serve their people with integrity and justice."
Interview first reported on ICN