A Life-Changing Educational Journey
Moving from bush school in Maar Village to refugee camp schools and finally to formal school in the U.S. was like moving from darkness to light.
I grew up in a little village in South Sudan called Maar. In my village, all children grew up already knowing the direction where their lives would go. You would become a herdsman, marry and raise a family. In my early childhood, I was not yet exposed to any school education system, but I was introduced to the life in the cattle camp where everyone is assigned a role.
When the civil war broke out between North and South Sudan, people were displaced within South Sudan and neighboring countries. My really first exposure to education was in Ame Refugee Camp. The living conditions there were competitive and not conducive to learning.
I didn’t have enough food to eat, and I was constantly worried about where my next meal was going to come from. We would have to share one book between 50 children. Learning the alphabet was also a challenge because we had to write the letters on the dirt floor. As a result of these harsh conditions, I did not understand the value of education.
Eventually, I made it to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. The United Nations opened up many schools from elementary school to high school throughout the camp. Here I began to learn the value of education. I started in the equivalent of first grade here in the U.S., but things were still rough in the camp, due to the lack of food and essential items.
On top of the school work, we had to make sure we completed labor-intensive chores before going to school, such as cooking, fetching water and getting firewood for cooking. In the early days of my education, I was really bright. Despite these living conditions, I was ranked first in my class.
Unfortunately, my education later went downhill due to worsened conditions at the refugee camp. There was not enough food for my cousins, brother and me to eat, so I would go to a displacement camp to find enough food rations for us. I was forced to miss many days from school. When I returned, all of my classmates had been promoted to the next grade, and it was difficult for me to catch up to them.
I came to the United States in 2001, and I was resettled in Webberville, Michigan, as a foster child. When I moved to America and entered into the western educational system, my education was finally allowed to be a priority for me, and the educational opportunities I received began to change my life.
A quote by Allan Bloom resonates with me and illustrates this part of my life. He said, “Education is the movement from darkness to light.” This quote is true to me because moving from bush school in Maar Village to refugee camp schools and finally to formal school in the U.S. was like moving from darkness to light.
In America, I was able to concentrate on my studies because of the stable living conditions in my foster home. We always had plenty of food and water, which I had not experienced in the refugee camps for so many years, so that was no longer a burden or distraction from my education.
In the beginning, it was really difficult for me to adjust to the American educational system because I was lacking basic understanding that normal American students would have learned in middle school before going to high school. Thankfully, there were individual teachers who really dedicated their time and taught me after school hours, unlike my experience in school in Kenya.
I worked really hard and graduated from high school. When I graduated, I was so excited that I felt like I was on top of the world! I knew that I wanted to pursue further education at a university. I saw how education and literacy had already impacted my life. It allowed me to share my story with others and be a voice for refugees.
I worked hard to receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Currently, I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Florida, and I would like to conduct my research in Kakuma Refugee camp where I spent nine years before immigrating to the U.S.
I experienced many drastic life changes growing up, but one the most profound changes was how my attitude about the importance of education evolved. Due to the civil war between North and South Sudan, I was orphaned and deprived of an early childhood education. I didn’t know what it was like to be part of good education institution until I came to the western world.
Education has changed my life in many ways. It has given me a voice and a platform to easily communicate and build relationships with people. It has given me the ability to lead others and create a non-profit organization, Southern Sudan Health Care Organization.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
I hope this quote inspires you to be bold and change the world with the knowledge you have received through your education. You have been blessed with health living conditions and the ability to learn as much about the world as you can.
Yes, education is a long-term investment, but once you have it, you gain a sense of respect from the whole world and the tools to make it a better place.
To learn more about Jacob’s work, visit www.sshco.org