February 8, 2017
By Yvonne Chen, Director of Development and U.S. Operations
We interviewed a MBSS alumn who has continued his education and is an inspiration to South Sudanese students. Piol Majok Manyuon is currently a second-year student of chemical engineering at Harare Institute of Technology in Zimbabwe.
Yvonne: Piol, tell me a little bit about yourself.
Piol: My name is Piol Majok Manyuon. I finished my high school in Marial Bai Secondary School in 2013. And now I’ve left South Sudan to Zimbabwe. Currently I am living in Harare, studying chemical engineering in Harare Institute of Technology. I first joined this school in 2015. I once started studying in Pakistan. But eventually I quit the other school and continued to have passion and all my motivations to do chemical engineering and [so] I did a new course in Harare Institute [after receiving a bilateral scholarship from the Government of Zimbabwe].
Yvonne: Can you tell us what it was like to study at Marial Bai?
Piol: I was a science student doing all the science subjects—physics, chemistry, biology and math. And I was actually good in chemistry, physics, and mathematics as I got distinctions in all the four subjects...when I was in high school.
Yvonne: Were you apart of any clubs?
Piol: I was in drama club and also in scouts.
Yvonne: What did you do in drama club?
Piol: We were taught by one of our teachers—a Kenyan called Mr. Arnold Wandati. He used to teach us poems representing African [identity]… how Africans were living…he used to teach us how to come up with the poems, how to talk about them and present them in public…we used to present them during [special] occasions. [In] school we used to go and read the poems, [especially] poems relating to war—as you know in South Sudan we have been at war for more than a hundred years. We used to perform those poems relating to war, how we suffer and how we will defeat that suffering.
Yvonne: And what about scouts?
Piol: This is the objective of scouts: to play a role in community service. I would go to see six patients in local clinics in Marial Bai and also some areas around Marial Bai. We used to go and assist them. Like we have in our school, we have our maize garden so we could take maize to help them. And second was that we used to deal with discipline. Like in a way that we are actually controlling students who might not be following the rules. We would tell them these are the rules in school and we should do this and not do this. And also we used to on certain occasions we would be acting like if we were soldiers. We could be standing around the gathering trying to make order in the meetings. And also going to the leftover apparatus [equipment] and cleaning them after parties and after they have been used. ... and also trying to promote peaceful relationships, interactions with other students... As you know in South Sudan we have been traumatized for some years. We tell people South Sudan is free and we need to build it up. We would talk to the youth and tell them we need to educate ourselves and recover ourselves and our nation. We have a lot of tasks we do in our scout club.
Yvonne: You were in the second class that enrolled in 2010. What was it like? What was it like when you went to enroll? Tell me about that day.
Piol: I was in Marial Bai in 2009 because I was with some of my relatives who were studying there. They used to tell me that Marial Bai is a good school where you can get a quality education. And there are foreign teachers who are coming from Kenya and Uganda, that there was chemistry and we have a lab to do experiments and other things. So they were actually motivating me, telling me a lot of things. I could not imagine myself studying in South Sudan where education was a little bit poor. So I was thinking about the possibilities of going to Uganda and Kenya so I could be okay, doing science subjects [and] where I could be actually gaining a lot of knowledge. But they tell me, "There’s no need for you to go to Uganda or Kenya. Here at Marial Bai we have got qualified teachers from East Africa, who were once studying in Uganda and they were actually good students that finished there, all of them with good grades...so they are teaching us." So [my relatives] motivated me and that’s why I felt like, okay, I should go to Marial Bai Secondary School. Once I joined, I got what they were telling me… there were good teachers. The foreigners were good teachers and we have labs where we can do our experiments. I was actually really impressed and stopped thinking of going abroad. So that’s how I got enrolled in Marial Bai Secondary School.
Yvonne: Can you tell me what happened to some of your classmates that graduated with you?
Piol: My batch was one of the best. We performed very well. One of them travelled to Egypt. He’s under a common scholarship. He’s doing dentistry now, as one of the guys who also performed very well in the class in our high school on the [secondary school] certificate [exam]. And three of my classmates are now in South Sudan doing health-related courses as a diploma in South Sudan. Some of my classmates joined the army. Some of them have now been promoted. Two of them are second lieutenants in the army now. And some of them – they are now teachers though they are not paid. Some of them are now teaching, and some not even doing anything. For them, there are no opportunities to go to school because there is nobody sponsoring them. Or they have got no scholarship. It’s unfortunate that there’s only two of us that are now doing our [university] degrees.
Yvonne: What happens to the girls? How many girls graduated in your class?
Piol: In our class it was only one who graduated with us. We were actually many but some circumstances [caused] them to drop out or some were married. Most of them got married and we graduated with only one lady. She’s a teacher. She teaches in a Lost Boy’s school in Aweil East: Abuel Deng. She’s teaching in one of the schools called Lost Boys Rebuilding South Sudan.
Yvonne: Why do you think the girls still get married so early and drop out of school?
Piol: I think one of the biggest cause is traditional-related factors. In the area where Marial Bai or the Northern Bahr el Ghazal or the whole of Bahr el Ghazal… we see ladies as wealth… the parents help these kids grow up with the intention of her getting married to a good guy or someone who just [has] a lot of cattle, so the very reason is that they are being raised by parents who are not actually aware of this modern world where education is the key. Where if your lady girl goes to university or other institutions, she will be a good woman. They see it as, "My girl is married now so I have cattle." The second factor is they do not have the money. It is the financial status. One other factor is that ladies themselves have that, you know, belief that when I grow older, my family will tell me, “You’re old, what are you doing? You don’t want to get married so that you have children?” So there’s pressure from their families. It’s the most common pressure for ladies.
Yvonne: What was so different about Abuel that she could graduate? What was different about her situation?
Piol: Yeah, that lady is actually a very visionary lady. She might have parents not in a position to take her to university. That’s why she’s now a teacher. She hasn’t been married yet. She used to tell us, “I’m not actually interested in getting married if I [don't] achieve my objectives and mission.” Her mission is to study, but the parents are not in the position of taking her to university. Now she’s just a teacher. She’s actually okay. Her condition is not that bad. She doesn’t have money to go to university. That’s why she’s still a teacher.
Yvonne: What are some of the problems in Marial Bai right now? I heard that there’s some people who suffer from hunger. Is this true?
Piol: Yes. The living conditions now in Marial Bai and parts of South Sudan in general is deteriorating and being influenced by the current economic problems. Some parts of the country are at war, there are political struggles. So living for most of our population [is not easy]. Now the problem is if you have money, it won’t be enough actually, for you to even survive. Our country depends a lot on imported goods, taking goods from neighboring countries like Uganda and Kenya. Once we used to receive our wood from Northern Sudan, at the border, but now there are some rebels at the border with Northern Sudan and there are some problems. That raises food items at the market, and they are at the highest price. For those who do not work on a salary, they just depend on what is generated at home [at the farm]. But it’s a bad situation...we hope it might change. It’s getting worse.
Yvonne: Have you seen this when you go back home? Do you see people who are very skinny and very hungry?
Piol: I left Marial Bai in 2014 in June. And haven’t been back until now, but people who just went recently told me about the suffering and even some of them went to Northern Sudan looking for jobs and are living [a frustrating] life. Most of my colleagues who went home, they told me how the situation was. Actually I’m not able to get my ticket to go home to visit my parents because of the cost. I don’t think I will go. That’s why I stay here. I will be here.
Yvonne: A lot of our donors are afraid that Marial Bai is not safe because they hear about the civil war. Can you tell me if there’s any of those problems in Marial Bai? Where’s the closest conflict that you’ve heard of from your colleagues or family?
Piol: Alright. Madam, sincerely, Marial Bai and the entire Northern Bahr el Ghazal--there has been no war in that area since the war started in 2013. The war started as a political struggle seeking for positions. Now In Marial Bai, it’s actually very safe. There is no fighting. The entire Bhar el Ghazal I can say, just only a few areas in Wau, in western Bahr el Ghazal, there was a small fight with the rebels. But now it’s actually okay. But in Marial Bai and Northern Bahr el Gahzal in general you couldn’t even hear a gunshot unless if you go to that part at the border [with Sudan]. We had been fighting for thirty years [against the Northerners], but now we are at peace. Our government used to make peace with them every season. This season now they have made a peace, it’s the dry season, [the Northerners] are coming inward with their cattle to graze and having good pastures. We are not actually at war with the Arabs [Northerners]. We, in Aweil, in Northern Bahr el Ghazal--we have been living peacefully, we are all the same people [Dinka]. If there’s any chance for donors that could come to see us, it would be greatly welcomed and you can even hear from others how they are living. They are suffering from this economic problem because there’s no goods coming in. But the war: there is actually no conflict and we are living peacefully.
*You can listen to the actual interview here: goo.gl/eqab9d