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The Edith Jackson Trust

Edith Jackson Trust St Joseph’s School, Rokon

In 2004 a slightly built African bishop arrived in St John’s College, Durham, to study for an MA. Bishop Francis Loyo, Bishop of Rokon, slowly shared the story of his own life – separated from his family for years during the civil war – and of his home village, Rokon. Before he went home, St John’s College asked him what it could do to help. He said: “Build a school because the children are the future of Sudan”. The Edith Jackson Trust (named after a former teacher in Sudan) was formed and the Trust set about fund-raising.

Raising the money was the easy part (about £100,000). Working with Bishop Francis and his colleagues to have the school built and staffed was the hard part. The Trust slowly learned that it had to go to Sudan to see if this was going to work.

Rokon was the front line. It was the last garrison of the Khartoum forces before no-man’s land, taken and re-taken during the fighting. When the first visit happened in April 2008, reconstruction was only just beginning and the slit trenches and bomb damage were evident. The children were being taught in a ramshackle thatched hut. Bullet cases littered the ground. There were 2 UN mine-clearing teams working around the village. An unexploded shell lay 100m from the site of the proposed school. But plans were agreed and contracts signed, as some sense of the difficulties on the ground were realised. (The road to Rokon was a relatively good pressed earth road then but by 2011 it was a mess making transport slow and expensive.)

Slowly, classroom by classroom, St Joseph’s School was built. Quality control and tight accounting from a continent away was a constant challenge. In early 2011 there was enough built to allow the Diocese to recruit teachers and the children arrived. The Trust went back to visit in September 2011 and was delighted and sobered by the findings. Rokon itself had expanded rapidly, both in terms of buildings (for example there was a large new state school) and people. Over 100 children were being educated, but only by 1 teacher. The school was mostly well built but was already showing signs of wear and tear and poor maintenance. Resources and good systems were a puzzling problem.

Now, in 2013 work is being completed to the initial set of buildings (a pit latrine which was much needed!) and the focus has changed to training the teachers. This was the over-whelming request from the PTA (a Parent Teachers association which is similar to the role played by school governors in the UK). There are two young men from Rokon Diocese now training at the excellent Teacher Training College in Yei, who will in time return to Rokon to teach.

What has been learnt?

That it can be done: that a group of committed people in the UK can raise enough money and provide just enough energy and expertise to help build a school in South Sudan. That it is very difficult. Without going into details, co-managing a project like this from thousands of miles away and into a totally different culture is complex and there have been bumps. Maybe it would have been better just to have raised the money and worked via an existing agency; certainly, if another group asked us that might be considered. And yet overheads are very low. It has been a hugely rewarding experience for those of us involved, especially those who have been able to go to Rokon.  Trust members always look forward so much to going back. And the sight of a school full of children in what had been murderous bush is something to be treasured. Has it been worth it? Look at the smiling face of the Rokon child and think of Matthew 18:5: ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me’.

If you would like to know more or support this project, please contact the Edith Jackson Trust