normal situations, the sound of the school bell is always the best way to tell
students sitting an exam to put their pens down and stop writing. But that
wasn't the case for some school children in South Sudan at the end of the latest
academic year in December 2013. It was the
sound of gunfire that did the job instead.
was at a school in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, to record interviews for
a BBC Media Action radio programme, part of a wider project that aims to
transform a generation of South Sudanese girls by increasing access to quality
as the Jonglei students sat their exams three weeks ago, political conflict in South
Sudan's capital, Juba, turned into an armed struggle and sporadic gunfire broke
out in Bor.
student Achol Ajack told me, "There was no time to think about my answers, no
time to write. I was shivering in fear."
students' supervisors, also terrified, collected their papers in a hurry,
handing them in to the police station where papers are kept before being sent
on for marking.
things changed quickly for the worse. After
a mutiny in the nearby military barracks, the same police post became a centre
of heavy fighting. It quickly fell to the anti-government rebels, who searched
every room of the station.
one, of course, paid any notice to those simple answer sheets.
teacher, who returned to Bor after government troops retook the town eight days
later, said the pupils' examination papers were "torn and scattered all over
– pictured above in a purple dress – and her classmates fled Bor with their
families and found themselves suddenly in a harsh new life. Walking long
distances carrying loads on their heads, they were soon hungry and tired and
most of them caught diseases like diarrhoea after drinking dirty flood
to end the violence are currently taking place in the Ethiopian capital Addis
until a fruitful outcome is achieved, thousands of students like Achol will
remain outside classrooms, in the bush or displacement camps where their priority
will no longer be exams, but how to survive.