Every morning, I wake up at 6am and get ready to go to school here in Juba. I’m still training to be a teacher, but every day I volunteer to teach at Gumbo Basic Primary, a local school. Classes start at 8am, and the first lessons of the day are English and science, followed by digital skills.
South Sudan is the world’s newest country and fell into civil war in 2013. Access to computers and smartphones – things most children take for granted – is among the lowest in the world. Conflict, poor education and poverty mean that many kids don’t have the chance even to touch a computer.
I want to see that changed.
Every day, I teach students how to use a computer – things as simple as turning it on and off, how to type and using Microsoft Office. It might not seem like much, but it makes a huge difference to these kids.
Their eyes light up when they learn how to do something for the first time. It’s exciting for them – many of them have seen and experienced unimaginable violence, so being able to escape into the digital world is magical.
Escaping into the digital world
Within a month of meeting a new student, they are able to use a computer completely on their own. They learn so quickly, and considering what so many of them have been through, it shows their resilience. We are a strong nation, and our children have hope for the future. We believe we can make things better and education is the key to rebuilding our country.
In the afternoons, we hold Peace Club in the school, where children from different tribes learn how to share, work and play together. These sessions, run by the charity World Vision, are of immense importance in a country as divided as South Sudan.
When the children go home, I stay behind to mark their books and plan for the next day’s lessons.
At about 4pm, I go home. I fetch water, cook supper, and wash and iron my clothes. I don’t have electricity so if I’m not watching television at my neighbour’s house, I go to bed as soon as it gets dark. My job is hard, but I love what I do. When I was just a one-year-old, I was forced to flee South Sudan with my family and take refuge in Uganda. It was difficult for me to return as an adult, but I know how important it is for the children in South Sudan to have committed teachers.
Even once the war is over, if South Sudan is to fully recover and its children are to live bright, full lives, they need a good education. Every child should know how to use a computer; if my students don’t know how to use one, they won’t be able to keep up, and I want them to have a better life than mine. They used to miss school all the time, but since we introduced computer lessons, they come every day.
And it’s not just about creating job opportunities when they’re older. I believe a better education will help these children become peacemakers, and help end the cycle of violence in South Sudan. When you’re educated, you learn how to solve issues that might otherwise result in conflict.
When I watch a student turn on a computer for the first time, I feel happy. There’s nothing like it.
Natana Stephen Charles is a teacher at Gumbo Basic Primary School in Juba, South Sudan
The computers used by Natana and his students were funded by international children’s charity, World Vision. To find out more about its work in South Sudan, visit bit.ly/WVSouthSudan