Students on the run, schools taken over by troops and the catastrophe of a generation | ET REALITY

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Boys and girls, dressed in colorful scarves, tattered shirts and flip-flops, ran across the dusty ground to form irregular lines to confront teachers at the start of the school day.

The children, hundreds of them gathered in makeshift classrooms, had arrived at this aid camp in recent months after fleeing the war in their homeland, Sudan. But even as they began to gain a sense of normality in their upbringing, many were still overwhelmed by memories of the cruel conflict they endured, which had left their loved ones dead and their homes destroyed.

“We know that the pain remains within their hearts,” said Mujahid Yaqub, a 23-year-old who fled Sudan and now teaches English at the school in the Wedwil refugee center in Aweil, South Sudan. Many of the children, he said, could not concentrate in class and often cried as they remembered their terrifying escape from bombings and massacres.

“We want to let you know there is hope,” he said, but “it’s painful.”

Universities, primary and secondary schools across Sudan remain closed six months after the war began, putting the future of an entire generation at risk. With approximately 19 million children out of school, Sudan is on the verge of becoming “the world’s worst education crisis,” according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. warned this month.

Teachers in this northeast African nation have been unpaid and out-of-school youth have been exposed to physical and mental threats, including recruitment into armed groups.

Universities and government educational offices have been destroyed or used as defense positions, and at least 171 schools have been converted into emergency shelters for displaced people, according to a spokesperson for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. .

“If this war continues, the damage to the education system will be irreparable,” said Munzoul Assal, who until April was a professor of social anthropology at the Faculty of Economics and Social Studies at the University of Khartoum.

The war between the Sudanese army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan, has killed up to 9,000 people and injured thousands more, according to the UN.

Both sides in the conflict said Thursday that their delegates had arrived in Jeddah for ceasefire talks brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia, although neither side agreed to a pause in fighting. Representatives of the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-member regional bloc to which Sudan belongs, also attended the talks.

With more than 7 million people internally displaced, including more than 4.6 million since the conflict began, Sudan is now The largest internal displacement crisis in the world.said the UN.

More than 70 percent of health care facilities nationwide have also been closed, even as the country faces a rise in infections and deaths from angerdengue and malaria and tens of thousands of pregnant women struggle to find life-saving care. Aid efforts are also hampered by funding shortages: The UN has received only 33 percent of the $2.6 billion it needs to deliver humanitarian assistance in Sudan this year.

The conflict has continued to escalate in recent weeks across the Darfur region of western Sudan, where ethnically motivated attacks have sparked war crimes and crimes against humanity investigations by the International Criminal Court. This month the UN Human Rights Council also established an independent fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations in the conflict, a move that was widely welcomed by human rights groups.

The paramilitary group, which has increasingly consolidated its control in Darfur, in recent days shelled the town of Nyala in southern Darfur while clashing with the army, activists and aid workers said. The fighting has overwhelmed health services, disrupted telephone and internet connectivity, and destroyed homes and markets.

Paramilitary forces said on Thursday they had overrun the army headquarters in Nyala, giving them effective control over Sudan’s second-largest city.

Paramilitary forces also continued to clash with the army in the capital, Khartoum, and the neighboring city of Omdurman. In recent weeks, both sides have been accused of bombing of hospitals either blocking crucial medical supplies That would keep them going. Fighting has continued amid widespread reports of looting, torture and sexual violence, forcing many people to pack up everything and leave the country entirely.

Many of those arriving in neighboring countries are students whose learning has now been interrupted.

For decades, the education system in Sudan suffered from a lack of funding and teacher training, as well as political interference from the government of dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir. But hopes many had that conditions would improve after his ousting in 2019 were quickly dashed. Long-lasting political crises and a faltering economy left students crammed into classrooms and teachers overcrowded. go on strike for unpaid wages and poor working conditions.

The war that has now convulsed the nation has only deepened these problems, leaving many students without prospects.

“I had ambitions for myself, my family and my country,” said Braa Nureyn, a 21-year-old who fled with her family to the Aweil camp and now shared a tent with eight family members. One recent morning, as she went to get water, Nureyn, a second-year dentistry student in Khartoum, said she was pained by not having to go to campus every day.

“The idea of ​​being a refugee is impossible,” he said. “I avoid thinking about it because there is no solution.”

The war has also affected thousands of foreign university students studying for free in Sudan. For decades, the Sudanese government gave scholarships to foreign students, mostly from African and Arab countries, as a way to boost Sudan’s cultural diplomacy but also to spread Islam, Assal, a professor of social anthropology, said in a telephone interview. from Bergen. Norway.

For these students – many of them from poor backgrounds – the war has meant returning home without any prospect of continuing or finishing their education.

“I was hoping to graduate and help my father raise the family,” said Alekiir Kaman, a 25-year-old South Sudanese national studying computer science at the International University of Africa in Khartoum. But now, he said, “I’m starting from scratch.”

Aid groups and UN agencies say they are stepping up efforts to ensure access to education goes hand-in-hand with the humanitarian response. Some Sudanese students have been able to enter primary and secondary schools in host countries such as Egypt and South Sudan. Rwanda has welcomed 200 Sudanese medical students. Education Can’t Wait, a UN fund dedicated to educational emergencies, has Announced a $5 million grant to support vulnerable school-age girls and boys.

But as the war drags on, people like Yaqub, the English teacher in the Aweil refugee settlement, say they will continue to do what they can with the little they have.

“Being a teacher means having hope in a new future,” he said. “We are teaching children to be mentally and physically strong so that they can return to Sudan and be the new generation that rebuilds Sudan.”

michael crowley contributed reporting from Washington.

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