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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2003, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Learning to survive
Justin Parkinson
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff, in Khartoum

Santina has spent eight years looking for her daughter
Santina has spent eight years looking for her daughter
Ten years after her husband disappeared, Santina Franco Klanpi still has no idea whether he is dead or alive.

For eight of those years, she has also searched for her missing eldest daughter, taken by soldiers at the height of Sudan's long-running civil war.

Illiterate, broke and alone, Santina had no way of dealing with the country's convoluted missing-persons bureaucracy.

So, like a growing number of women, she left her home and joined an adult education course run by volunteers in the dusty camps for the war's "displaced" around the capital Khartoum.

Santina said: "I have to go on trying to find my daughter. If you do not have an education, there is no way it will be possible."

Left alone

In 1993, the Islamic government's forces entered Santina's southern hometown of Juba, taking control from the largely Christian Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

She said: "At home, life had been good, because we were working on the farm. There was harmony. But when the army came, there was only fighting.

"The SPLA moved away, leaving us on our own. Things became difficult. The army was raping women and impregnating them."

Santina's husband fled to the nearby hills, leaving her to feed the family on her agricultural labourer's wage.

The streets of Mayo camp are strewn with litter
The streets of Mayo camp are strewn with litter

She added: "My eldest daughter Susy was taken away, at 13 years of age, in 1995. I have not seen her since.

"The soldiers said they wanted the children to fetch water for them. They told my daughter to go with them. I offered for them to take me instead, but they refused.

"I told the soldiers a child should not be taken. So one of them set fire to a bit of nylon and held it on my leg as punishment."

She still bears a large burn scar on her left calf.

For six years after Susy disappeared, Santina spent much of her time travelling around Sudan - Africa's largest country - with her remaining four children in tow.

The search for her daughter failed.

Like an estimated two million people, Santina ended up in the displacement camps of Khartoum, their nameless streets crowded with mud huts and full of rotting waste.

Two million dead

Two-thirds of Sudanese adult females are described as "functionally illiterate" - unable to perform basic reading and writing tasks.

In Santina's camp, Mayo, 12 miles south of the city centre, the British charity Education Action International funds an adult learning project for women.

She joined a course run by Karak Mayik, herself a displaced person, in a school made up of mud walls and a bamboo roof.

4am - Wake up and use last night's soaked stale bread to prepare the family's food
5am - Leave for work as a home-help at a wealthy family's house in Khartoum
6am - Arrive at work and perform tasks, such as washing, ironing, cleaning rooms, washing children, without a break for the next 11 hours
5pm - Finish work and go to the market in Khartoum, spending a couple of hours looking for the cheapest food
9pm - Arrive back at home, cook for the children, then soak stale bread for tomorrow
10pm - Go to bed, in a room shared with eight other people

Women learn reading, writing, basic mathematics and a skill, such as knitting, dying or basket-making.

The aim is for them to start self-sustaining businesses, in a country where 30% of people are officially unemployed.

This economic disaster is the legacy of a war which has lasted for most of the 47 years since Sudan gained independence from Britain.

Around two million government soldiers, SPLA forces and civilians have died.

Linguistic differences, tribal animosities, religious hatred and a desire to control Sudan's oil reserves serve to complicate the situation.

Those who have moved from the south to Khartoum's camps, where daytime temperatures regularly exceed 50C in the shade, feel alienated and powerless.

Mrs Mayik said: "The casualties of war are increasingly women and children. Whether as civilians or combatants, they are subjected to suffering and pain.

"During flight from the war and in the camps, they are confronted with emotional and sexual abuse. There is a lack of awareness on women's part."

Stale bread

To keep her family alive, Santina works long hours as a home-help in central Khartoum on the three days a week she is neither studying nor praying.

Her low wages mean she has to search markets for cheap stale bread, which she soaks in water to make edible.

Santina has learned how to knit, as well as read and write
Santina has learned how to knit, as well as read and write

Santina said: "I work to help myself. People in the camps keep getting arrested for making liquor, which is the only way of making decent money, so I can't do that.

"It's difficult, but there's nothing else I can do but work as a home-help. Otherwise, my children go hungry.

"If somebody has a husband, they can bring more money in. Women are carrying the nation. There are many men and children who have got lost in the war.

"I want peace, so I can go back to the south. The war can only bring destruction. God is the one who will help."

In a country where state education does not exist, except for the government setting a basic curriculum and giving sporadic funding, Santina's remaining children do not attend school.

She hopes to sell more of her knitwear, so that one day she can afford the $35 (23) a year the voluntary schools in the camps have to charge to survive.

Santina said: "I want my children to learn reading and writing, so they never have to go through my experiences and so they can get good jobs.

"At the moment, there is nothing for them to do all day. People need something to hope for."

The Khartoum government and the SPLA have recently called a ceasefire and are discussing a possible settlement. The talks are expected to end next month.

Santina said: "Whatever happens, I don't know if my daughter is dead or alive. The situation is still unclear.

"Once I have got a bit of money, I will go looking for Susy again. She would be 21 now."

Country profile: Sudan
15 Sep 03 |  Country profiles

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