When the pair walked into the head teacher’s office at the Sosiani Primary School in Eldoret town, he was puzzled. Both were in school uniform, but one looked too old to be a pupil. South Sudanese Isaac Chol had come to school with his son John Majuk. The headmaster, Nicholas Kosgey, assumed the father was here to egg his son on.
But no. The 30-year-old is also thirsty for education, having not had an opportunity to go to school because of war back home. With the help of a translator, the father of three, who came into the country two months ago, said he wanted to travel the academic journey alongside his firstborn.
“I never had a chance to attend school back in the Northern Bahr el Ghazal region of South Sudan, where I was born, because of fighting among local communities,” he said. “It was practically impossible not just for me but all children in that region to go to school. The situation is still the same. As a matter of fact, schools, and indeed many other institutions, are not functional. I spent most of my childhood herding cows and running away from armed rival pastoralist groups and rebels.” When the conflict became unbearable, he left with his family and crossed to Uganda. “We left everything we had behind, all our properties,” said Mr Chol.
By the time he was leaving his troubled country, Mr Chol was in his early 20s and was married with a baby, Ajak. He said life in Uganda, where his two other children were born, was tough. The family moved to Nairobi and have been staying with relatives who have been in the country for some time. “After all that my family and I have gone through, our lives have taken a whole new direction. Back at home, we relied on breeding livestock and we would inherit them from our parents. That was our wealth. But now, things are different. That is why I have decided to go to school,” he said. Mr Chol was enroled in Grade Three while his six-year-old son joined PP1. “Although this is a unique case, we have 115 South Sudanese in our school and their stories are similar to that of Chol and Ajak,” said Mr Kosgey.
The school is doing everything possible to make foreign learners comfortable, especially those with troubled backgrounds. “We have developed programmes to help such students. For instance, many of the South Sudanese children we admit have challenges understanding or speaking English and Kiswahili, which are the main language we use for communication. We have a specific programme to address this challenge and it’s bearing fruit,” said the head teacher. Eunice Koech, who is now Mr Chol’s teacher, said she will do her best to help him catch up with the rest of the learners.
“I have a number of South Sudanese pupils in my class and they are doing well. Chol too will be just fine. I know his colleagues will also be more than willing to assist him, not only to learn the languages but also get used to this environment,” she said. Mr Chol move from Nairobi after he learnt that he had many relatives living there. And with the help of a cousin who is based in the US, he located an old family friend who lives in Elgon View Estate, not far from the school, who accommodated them. Mr Chol is not certain what he wants to be in the future, but hopes to get a job and help his people back home. “My wife is in Nairobi taking care of our two children with the help of my father who apparently wants to go back to Southern Sudan to reunite with his kin. My son and I are here trying to gain an education,” he said.