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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Letter from Isoke No 6: A teacher crisis

Liz Hodgkin, RVI Fellow and former Amnesty International Sudan researcher, teaches at St Augustine’s School in the village of Isoke, in Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan. This is her sixth letter from Isoke. Other letters: No 1 July 2012, No 2 October 2012, No 3 November 2012, No 4 December 2012, No 5 March 2013, No 7 May 2013, No 8 June 2013 and No 9 September 2013

The three late-coming teachers never arrived, and well into the term we had no one to teach science except the Accounts Teacher, who stood in for the maths and physics teachers. The chemistry teacher left in December with a collection of illnesses that included malaria, typhoid, amoebiosis and pneumonia. The last phone call we had from him, he said he had yellow fever too. He is still aiming to report for duty. But I wonder.

However, the medical staff, including the doctors from the hospital, have again come to our aid and are coming to the school to teach chemistry, physics, biology, physics and maths. Plus a local second year student from the University of Juba is teaching maths and physics in Senior 4 (it’s his long vacation). He is proving to be a wonderful teacher. The S4 students seem to be enjoying maths for the first time. Each time I go in to the form I see a knot of students doing problems on the blackboard.

Meanwhile the Head Teacher went to the Ministry of Education in Torit to see who they had on their lists. They were as unhelpful as he predicted that they would be. The Head Teacher hates bureaucracy. But he would happily walk forty kilometers to get some errand done back in Isoke.  I wrote an advertisement for teachers which was broadcast on Radio Bakhita (the Catholic Church Radio) and friends have put it on notice boards in Torit and Juba, where there are said to be many unemployed teachers. The advert stresses that the post would suit those who like a rural environment.

The Deputy Headmaster has been sick most of the term. I saw him in hospital yesterday, so I know he is not malingering.  I have taken over his history classes—East African History (the Coastal trade and then the missionaries) and Sudan History (colonialism and resistance to it). This is a joy, although it means my timetable is now quite full.

The death of Bishop Akio

The big event here has been the death of Bishop Akio of Torit, which means that the diocese is without a Bishop. I met Bishop Akio when he came to stay here; he seemed a good, simple man, easy to get on with.  I noted his gift for recruiting people like Charles the Engineer in airports and Indian hospitals.

His death may have been hastened by a crisis in the diocese. The Vicar-General was dismissed more than a year ago for embezzling funds. And it seems that other employees of the diocese had gone so far as to copy the Bishop’s seal and imitate his signature and then try to escape in a landcruiser with dollars and equipment. They were brought back from the Ugandan border to Torit but then released. I doubt anyone will be held accountable. Not that Bishop Akio was implicated in any of this. They found only 2 dollars and 150 Kenyan shillings in his rooms after he died. But after these scandals were revealed the projects were taken away from the Diocese and given to Caritas Torit. The Bishop had a nine-hour closed meeting with the priests of the diocese. And then it seems he stopped bothering to eat.

Father B., the Bishop’s secretary, himself had pneumonia at the time. He struggled back to Torit two weeks ago and took the Bishop to hospital in Juba, carrying $2,000 for expenses. They would not treat Bishop Akio without receiving the money in advance in Sudanese pounds. The Bishop had to wait two hours while Father B. rushed around trying to change money. Then all the consultant said was that the Bishop would need to be seen in Nairobi. So they used the rest of the money to buy plane tickets. In Nairobi, the Aga Khan Hospital demanded $2,500 before they would look at the Bishop. So again the Bishop had to wait, this time for five hours, while Father B. looked for money, eventually using the credit card of a priest he had met in the plane. So the Bishop was finally admitted. But he died that night. The official cause of death was heart failure. (The story of being turned away from the hospitals for lack of money is not confidential; it was broadcast over the radio in an interview with Father B.).

An orphaned duiker

A small duiker was brought to the compound by a hunter who had shot its mother. I called her Joanna as my friend Joanna was due to visit me that day. We fed her on milk through a hospital syringe. She survived, and now she is eating greens, onion skins, and ugali.  She butts everyone’s legs and sniffs up women’s skirts, perhaps looking for teats. She is not exactly fraternising with the other animals in the compound— the ducks, the chickens, the cat and the dog— but she’s living in peace with them.

There used to be two cats, but one day I saw the watchmen and Franco the orphan gathering round the grandmother cat, trying to shoot it using a bow and fearsome-looking arrows, because it had killed two chicks. They were whooping with excitement. Maybe it was something to do with the death of the Bishop. A general breakdown of law and order used to follow the death of a pope. But I declared shooting in the compound banned and insisted that the cat be killed painlessly.

A walk to Loyilanyi

One day I climbed to the village of Loyilanyi in Dito, a high plateau where Anyanya I rebels had a base in the first Sudanese civil war, in the 1960s. Lovely. Since I’ve walked about so much many people knew me—“Ah, Elizabeth, we met you on the river bank!”.  There didn’t seem to be a separation between the people living on the mountain and the villages at the foot.  In nearly every household the wife—or sometimes the husband—came from the valley below.

In Lovilanyi I found an excellent potter and a thumb piano player. In Loyei, a woman catechist. There was a school with two teachers. They have no help from the State nor from the Diocese and set their own exams and give their own certificates.  They had three blackboards, one classroom and benches of bamboo. They were teaching Primary One under a tree.

The wandering players

We didn’t stay the night in Dito. I wanted to get back as a group of wandering players was coming on Sunday. Actually they had turned up in the Parish Compound on the previous day without warning (as everyone does since there are no phones) aiming to perform for International Women’s Day. But it rained all morning and they left, promising to come back on Sunday.  They were from Manna Sudan, an NGO based in Ikotos. They explained to Sister P. that they suited their plays to the problems of the area. They could perform plays on violence, cattle raiding, alcoholism, forced marriage, compensation, domestic violence, inheritance, and negligence.  Sister P. told them: “We have all those things”.  As it was for Women’s Day they did plays on forced marriage and giving girls as compensation, that is giving a girl from your family to another family if one of your family has killed someone from that family.

A dozen of our students were sitting on logs waiting for them to begin. Manna Sudan were late starting and I saw them pulling a couple of their actors away from nearby bars. But within five minutes there were 100 spectators, mostly children, and by the end of the first play, about 300.

Read on: Isoke Journal No 7 May 2013

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