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Cultivating peace through education in Southern Sudan

August 19, 2010
In 2007, IRIS began an initiative with Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, and the University of Juba in Juba, Sudan, to develop a curriculum that would focus on peace, gender and pluralistic concepts in order to address the critical need for peace education in the war-torn country of Sudan.
The idea for such a curriculum stemmed from recognizing the crucial role teachers and educators can play in promoting a culture of tolerance and understanding, as they have the capacity to reach multiple audiences, particularly young people who have known only war their entire lives.
Participants and IRIS staff

Front row: Laku Nyarsuk, Emilee Richardson. Back row: Cecelia Apaya, Del Christensen, Sirisio Oromo, Ashley Heffern, Martha Pope

This month, IRIS hosted three educators from the University of Juba. They spent most of their time at Iowa State University developing a pilot training program for in-service teachers. The participants included:

  • Dr. Sirisio Louis Oromo, professor at the Center for Peace and Developmental Studies
  • Ms. Cecilia Andrea Apaya
  • Mr.  Laku Wani Ladu Nyarsuk


Southern Sudan is an autonomous region in Northeastern Africa that is intermediate between the states and the national government. Its status is a condition of a peace agreement that ended Africa’s longest civil war, which ran intermittently between 1955 and 2005.
This lengthy civil war was a result of ethnic, religious and economic conflicts between the Northern Sudanese (with Arab and Nubian roots) and the Christian and animist Nilotes of Southern Sudan. There was a brief hiatus in the national conflict when the Addis Ababa Agreement was signed in 1972, but the civil war was reignited in 1983 when the president of Sudan’s broke the agreement by imposing Islamic law on all of Sudan, including the non-Muslim South.
Peace talks between the southern rebels and the government made substantial progress in 2003 and early 2004 with the official signing of the Nairobi Comprehensive Peace Agreement on January 9, 2005. This granted Southern Sudan autonomy for six years and will be followed with a referendum vote on independence scheduled for January 9, 2011.
Learn more on the Government of Southern Sudan’s website:

Participant Interviews

IRIS’s public relations specialist, Emilee Richardson, had the opportunity to sit down with the Southern Sudanese participants on August 10. She asked questions about their lives as well as the desperate need for peace education in their country and how this program can help.
  • Please introduce yourself.
  • What inspired you to become a teacher?
  • Since you’ve been in Iowa for about a week and a half, what stands out to you about our state?
  • For those who don’t know, please explain the current situation in Sudan and why peace education is so important right now.
  • The referendum vote is coming up in a few months. Do you feel Southern Sudan is prepared for this critical decision?
  • What are your thoughts on the United States’ role in helping Sudan recover and develop from this point forward?
  • What would you like Americans to know about Southern Sudan?

Please introduce yourself.
Dr. Oromo: I’m Professor Sirisio Oromo from the University of Juba in Southern Sudan. I’m a professor at the center for peace and developmental studies. For both postgraduates, masters and Ph.D. I have a Ph.D. in psycho/social and a masters in conflict resolution, a masters in social work, a masters in business administration and a masters in divinity and then a basic degree in criminal justice. This is about me.
Ms. Apaya: I’m Cecelia Apaya. I’m from the University of Juba. We came together with Lako and Dr. Oromo. I teach psychology, and I got my MA from Juba University in psychology, and now, I’m writing a citation in psychology about child soldiers in South Sudan.
Mr. Nyarsuk: I’m Lako Nyarsuk. I’m a lecturer in physics, college of education, University of Juba. Of course, I teach physics. I have a masters in physics and a postgraduate diploma in meteorology from Khartoum University. At the moment, I’m with Juba University in Juba. And that’s all.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
Dr. Oromo: Yes, what made me to become a teacher was that my background was a pastor for 23 years, and I felt it was good for me not to spend time with the papers [writing] in the office, but to impart knowledge to the people – particularly to bring up the new generations and talk to them about peace and other various disciplines in the university. I like teaching because you are dealing with the people, and you interact with the people not with the computer and papers! So that’s what I like about teaching.
Ms. Apaya: I chose to be a teacher because my mother actually was a teacher. And my cousins, about five of them, were primary teachers, so I was actually imitating them. And they planted that spirit of being a teacher in me when I was young. Then, when I grew up, I decided to be a teacher finally because I wanted to answer certain questions within the community which other people could not answer – and that is just by being a teacher. You’d be able to help them and answer those questions by helping even families – how they will help their children through educational sections. That’s why I became interested to be a teacher.
Mr. Nyarsuk: Yes, I became a teacher – not that I have courses or subjects so that I become a teacher, but it was when I was starting my intermediate school with church personnel, church leaders. They always taught us how to teach others coming behind us, and we continued like that until the war broke out. Then, there were so many displaced young boys in camps and whatsoever there, so we practiced teaching them – teaching them why to continue with education. Then teaching became a career. I continued teaching. When I studied in the university, applied and productive sciences, still I was teaching. And when I applied for a job, I became a teacher, and it has become a career. I cannot leave it now!
Since you’ve been in Iowa for about a week and a half, what stands out to you about our state?
Dr. Oromo: Yes, there are a lot of things that have impressed me about Iowa, because politically, Iowa is a very important state, and it’s a farming area. People are nice, preparing and welcoming and generous. And the university, particularly Iowa State University, it also has a historical connection with the people of Southern Sudan, because in 1977, when our leader [John Garange] graduated from Iowa State, here, started the connections. Iowa State University is very rich in books and materials, and we’ll learn from them and share a lot of things with them. In particular, when we came, we were welcomed by somebody from IRIS, and Mr. Del has been of so much help to us. And also one professor from Iowa State University and Donna, they really help us so much. We are actually motivated with their good spirit of working with us. I like Iowa.
Ms. Apaya: I’ve really been impressed about Iowa for some reasons. The first thing is I’m really very happy to see women doing a lot of working, because I’m gender sensitive anyway. So many women are working… even – I don’t know – maybe more than men – in markets, in offices, everywhere. And people here, they are very generous. You find people smiling, and they’re ready to help you. I hope all Americans are like people in Iowa. I don’t know. Really, they’re so helpful, and especially the university, as Dr. Oromo said. They were very good, they helped us, and we’ve been going out to see other places – to visit schools and to visit many places, library. So it’s something very great to us, and we have to put it in our record.
Mr. Nyarsuk: My impression of Ames, Iowa, is that I found that it just like part of our country-member or our relatives who have been with us for so long – like Dr. Lee, who was in Aphad University for so long and Donna, Dr. Donna, was also in Aphad for so long, and some others including Leah also. So they really take care of us like, I don’t know, maybe more like children. So we don’t expect that in Iowa. We find people like that very impressive and very interesting and ready to help. So when I was coming, I didn’t expect that, but when I got here, I found that I am at home.
For those who don’t know, please explain the current situation in Sudan and why peace education is so important right now.
Dr. Oromo: Sudan had experienced war after war after war since 1955, and there has never been any peace to us until 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed that at least created some peace within our country. And if you can see the trends of this type of war since 1955, people have been all along suffering, traumatized. Everyone since 1955 — all of us who were even born during the war or who became old during the war — the trauma is very high in Sudan. That’s why the University of Juba came to develop what we call “peace courses” — peace and development. Because peace is very important. We are trying to change the culture from a culture of war to a culture of peace and then also to create a peaceful atmosphere in the country. This has forced us to develop very good programs about peace — like conflict resolution and mediations and so on. You know, when people grow up in the war, people become hostile, people become all sorts of things, and we are here to develop a curriculum on peace integrating into syllabus in Sudan, so that at least peace should be taught from elementary to university level. We have discovered there is nothing that can change our people except for education. It is not too late for our people to be taught, and that’s why we’re here through Iowa State University to develop, “How can we together with Iowa people, with American people, work together to build this into practice and to put it into the syllabus so that it can be taught. It is a challenge. As you know, peace is very important  — as individuals, as family, as friends, as a community, as a state, as a nation — peace is paramount. So that’s why we’re here: to see that we can at least learn from one another how to insert peace in the syllabus in Southern Sudan. And we’re also appealing to you people [Americans] to stand with us. I know it’s not easy for us to do this work alone, so we need all of us to be involved even as a possibility. Your help would mean a lot to help bring peace to the Sudan. You know, where there is war… The war in Sudan has produced more orphanages and more disableds and more widows. So this is the situation we’re dealing with now — dealing with the most difficult things in life and how to overcome them. It is a process that we’re now trying to work with their methodologies and mechanics of how do we replace that trauma with peace. It’s not an easy thing, but this is what we’re here for.
Ms. Apaya: I think he has covered most of the topics, and in fact, as he said, we want to integrate this idea of peace in the curriculum. So that the teachers are there, and we give them a sort of workshop, then they will carry this to their students, so that the information will go across as many people as possible. Because people, as he said, are traumatized, really. Even myself, I am traumatized, because we went through the war all these years, so the behavior is a bit shaky.
Dr. Oromo: When we go from here, we will organize a workshop. We will plan as a pilot project first of all and start with maybe 30 or 50 teachers from basic schools – what you call primary or elementary here – and from secondary schools. We’ll bring them together, and then we can work through the courses we have learned from here and then the methodology — how to insert peace into the syllabus or into the subject they are teaching. For example, Lako is teaching physics, so he’ll find ways to insert peace in his class. Cecelia is teaching psychology, so she could even find something to insert in her class. For me, there’s no problem. I’m teaching about peace. For me, it’s very straightforward, but for them, they have to find ways to insert peace in the subjects they’re teaching. So this is the practical step we’ll take when we go from here. And it’s not going to be only one workshop. It’s going to be a continuous program that we’re going to be planning with the University of Juba. So the three of us will be facilitators, and we’ll also train people who train other people — “ToT – Train of Trainers.” As I told you before, the peace process is very long. It’s not overnight. We are going to do it, and from there, we’d like to see that it is carried in all schools. That is our objective.
Ms. Apaya: To talk about peace in the classroom, some students fight each other, and you can tell them that they have to reach a compromise, and you can tell them to think about us here in South Sudan. Peace was the only thing that brought you in the classes now. Formerly, you’d been running up and down. Your building was outside. But now, there is peace. So you have to change that behavior of war to that behavior of peace. You can tell them in the classroom like that, and then they’ll understand.
Mr. Nyarsuk: In natural sciences, implementation of peace is not as easy as people in social sciences. So for natural sciences, maybe they may get room in trends — like trends of teaching physics or trends of biology education or trends in mathematics. It’s the subject that really associates social sciences into the method of teaching — how to teach physics or chemistry or biology and others. But for natural sciences, it’s really difficult to involve peace in equations — like Newton’s — it’s very complicated, but maybe, people try and it takes time. But in teaching methods in schools, methods how to teach these natural subjects, people can also see it, but not as much as social sciences.
The referendum vote is coming up in a few months. Do you feel Southern Sudan is prepared for this critical decision?
Dr. Oromo: The coming of freedom is a challenging topic for us in the Sudan. It is not a matter of whether we are ready to do it, because history has proven that the two cannot stay together. North and South has been war and war and war and war. And I think the best thing now for us is to kind of divorce – divorce in a way that we have to end up separate. We are Sudanese, of course, so we love our brothers from the North — they are our brothers and friends. But when it comes to dignity and self-respect and identity, we have to determine our future. And that determination of our future is the referendum of Southern Sudan, which will take place the 9th of January 2011. You know, the current workshops in Sudan and Juba are all about teaching people about the referendum so that they know their rights. We have confidence that Southern Sudan’s ready and that we’re capable of administering ourselves. Of course, the present existing state will not be at 100 percent, but at least they will be able to start from where they are. So the same with us… We will start from the resources, from the human power that we have in our new country, and from there, we will grow and develop like another state. So what we’re working on now is passing the referendum and developing relations between the North and the South. We want to have good relations with our neighbors — with the North, with Uganda, with Ethiopia, Kenya, Congo. We have to have good relationships with them. We don’t want conflicts. And this is also what we are telling our brothers [in the North]… Let us depart in peace. Because when we depart in peace, we’ll also live in peace as neighbors. And of course, we are more collectivized than the Northerners. They should be proud of us — we speak Arabic, we adopt their cultures, which we do for them. So they should not see it as a negative thing, but they should see it as a positive step toward building a new relationship between the South and the North. And of course, we don’t want war. We’ve already paid a price for war. We just want to break peacefully, and leave them peacefully and cooperate with them in many areas. Of course, there will be some challenges — the oil revenue. We agreed that when we’ve succeeded in the referendum, we will agree on terms of how long they’ll continue to benefit from the oil, because you cannot just destroy it like that — boom. And other resources, we will be sharing with them even though we are going to be a different state, but we are going to share the resources that are in the South for building good relations. So this is our place currently in the South.
Ms. Apaya: He has exhausted everything… But now in Sudan, actually, in the South, people are shouting for separation. And they’re focusing seriously on separation. In the North, they’re focusing on unity — “We have to stick together. We are one country. We have to stick together.” But what is the guarantee again of staying together? No… But we, the Southerners, we’re the people to decide, nobody else. Nobody else. We have to decide for our own futures. Some people there want unity, but I think 100 percent of the Southerners, we are for separation.
Mr. Nyarsuk: The referendum, it is the will of the people. If they understood their own problems of either to be together or maybe to separate, then they are to vote for it, of course, because they are not to be told that you “make this” or “don’t make this.” They are free to choose according to their own understanding, their own suffering. But no one is allowed to tell them: “You better separate or not separate. When you separate, this will happen, or if you don’t separate, this may not happen.” No, they are free, and I hope everybody now has understood everything — whether he is to leave for separation or maybe to unite, and he knows his reasons and can explain them to himself.
What are your thoughts on the United States’ role in helping Sudan recover and develop from this point forward?
Dr. Oromo: I may say that during the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, if there was any country that was pushing for agreement, it was the United States of America. And we really appreciate them for that, because without them being a powerful country, I don’t think anything could have been achieved. We know very well that they were behind the signing of the agreement and bringing the war to an end, because there were too many people dying, but it was only benefiting a few people in leadership, not everybody. So Americans are our friends. They are friends of Southern Sudan. They are friends of the world. They are friends of anybody who is longing for peace. And we really think that America contributed a lot to assist us — particularly when we fought for the referendum, they helped us to develop from there, to develop our state. And they are there. They are helping us in many areas, and we really appreciate that. We are appealing to them that they should not turn their back on us. They can walk together with us side-by-side. I know there are many Sudanese-Americans here, and I also hope they will also come back home to contribute to the reconstruction of that new country we are expecting with the help of America. We don’t have many things to say about America, because it is self-explanatory… They’ve been standing with us. They’ve been standing for the cause in Darfur, so much supporting. And supporting the South. They are not segregating and supporting just people from the North or the South, no, but they look at Sudan in it’s totality. The interest of America is peace. That is very important for any human beings, that we have to be in peace. So we are thankful, grateful to them, and they should continue supporting us, even more than today, that they can increase their support, particularly in the reconstruction of Southern Sudan. And we are friends! And we’ll be friends forever! It’s not that we’re able to be temporary friends, no, we’ll be friends forever. They’re good people. They’re listening people. They’re supportive. Thank you.
Mr. Nyarsuk: For America, of course, no one is able to comment about what they have done, their generosity in saying there should be peace everywhere and human rights should be maintained everywhere, so I’m too young to comment about what America has done not only for Sudan but for the world, so we thank them a lot.
What would you like Americans to know about Southern Sudan?
Mr. Nyarsuk: We came from the part of Southern Sudan where there’s a university, of course, and most of the universities of Sudan are all in the North. And we have a very big problem of upgrading the teachers and professors to the level of awareness, because even leaders who are coming, they’ve been studying in Sudanese universities, they are not exposed to politics. There are many young boys that are there, and they need to be upgraded to that standard. Also, we welcome those who are outsiders, those who have studied here [in the U.S.] — Southern Sudanese or maybe general Sudanese who have studied outside here. If they could at least come back and help the country, because their country really needs them, even before separation or after separation, their help is really appreciated. If there’s a means of helping in education, we really appreciate it.
Ms. Apaya: Of course, Southern Sudan is there, we are coming out of war and not many developments are being done, and we need a lot more in the field of education, and especially women. We need to maybe open more and more schools for girls so that they’ll be able to compete in politics and whatever. But otherwise, we are trying our best, but we need more knowledge for that thus through education.
Dr. Oromo: We appeal to Americans… As I told you before, there was a gap during the war between 1955 and 2005 where there was a breakdown of education in Sudan, totally. Some people went to the refugee camps in Uganda and Kenya, but they couldn’t even afford to pay their school fees. Some went to the North, but they were thrown in the desert. So there was a complete generational break in education. So my appeal to Americans is to let them open their doors, because education matters a lot. The few who are there cannot do it alone. So the people who come from Sudan can learn here in America and take what they learned and implement it at home.
6 Comments leave one →
  1. Kimberly Hope permalink
    August 20, 2010 12:22 AM

    Great article! So glad they were able to come to IRIS and I’m hopeful for the continued work towards peace in Sudan!

  2. Hannah Mc permalink
    August 21, 2010 2:11 AM

    Thanks for the great article and interview notes. I work with a lot of the Sudanese refugee families here in Ames, so it’s wonderful to hear updates about a country and beautiful people that are close to my heart. Praying for ’em!

  3. March 10, 2011 1:43 PM

    I am Mr. Victor Ladu Dario, a Southern Sudanese working in the Min. of Agriculture & Forestry/Government of Southern Sudan-Juba.
    Please, could i join the forum? Let me know as soonest.


    • iriscenter permalink
      March 10, 2011 4:56 PM

      Thank you for your comment. The involved parties are now back in Sudan, but I could share their contact information with you if you would like. Let me know at your convenience.

      • Laku permalink
        May 10, 2013 7:31 PM

        Please greetings to all the Iowa and Ames
        Please you can get us

        Mr. Laku
        Mrs Cecilia
        Dr. Oroma


  1. From the Executive Director: Teaching peace in war-ravaged Sudan « Iowa Resource for International Service

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