Page last updated at 06:40 GMT, Tuesday, 4 May 2010 07:40 UK

Sudan ex-slaves: Swapping school for bread

Khalid at the bakery

By Lucy Fleming
BBC News, Madhol

Khalid Deng is not sure how old he is but he has already experienced too much hardship for his tender years - he was born into slavery after his mother's abductor raped her in a cattle camp in north Sudan.

Then, two years after he was freed, he was fitted out for a school uniform, so he could start primary school but he has now left, saying he is too hungry to continue with his studies.

"He refuses to go to school because he says he cannot go without breakfast and also without lunch when he comes back from classes," says his mother Arek Anyiel Deng who returned to her home village of Madhol in a remote part of south Sudan with her six children four years ago.

Arek smiling (Photo by Save the Children's Colin Crowley)
I like it, I like being called grandmother
Arek Anyiel Deng

So every morning as the sun rises he heads off to the market bakery to make bread where he earns two Sudanese pounds (SDG) (about 90 cents, 60 pence) a day.

"I liked school, but I used to have no lunch here so I buy food with that money," he says somewhat defensively as the family laugh and tease him for trying to suggest that he gives them some of his earnings.

Khalid has not seen or heard from his father since the family were rescued from the cattle camp in 2006, a year after the peace deal that ended the two-decade conflict between the Arab-dominated north and the south.

In 2007, Ms Anyiel told the BBC about her abduction from her home in Madhol at the age of 10 and her life in the camp where she was often beaten and raped.

Khalid's uniform and that of his younger sister Mariem were bought after the interview, partly thanks to money sent by BBC readers and listeners touched by the family's story.

It enabled them to go to the local primary school they had shunned, as they were ashamed to be the only pupils without uniforms.

Mariem says she is doing well at school and gets good marks.

"I like all the subjects. The books are free," she explains, but says finding the 5 SDG for fees each term is never easy.


With some of the other donated money Ms Anyiel had put a new thatch roof on her mud hut (tukul) and started a small business selling tea in the market.

We sell water to the brick makers and at the construction site for the secondary school
Arek Anyiel Deng

But sitting on blue plastic chairs under the soothing shade of the big tree near their hut, whose thatch is now covered in termites, she tells the BBC that feeding her family still proves a struggle.

"These few chairs we are sitting on were bought with some of the donation from people - they have made a big difference, we are very grateful," she says.

"Yet life is very difficult for us. I'm not making tea any more. The tukul I used to make the tea in was burned down two years ago."

During the last rainy season, she decided not to plant sorghum as the land is not fertile and she did not have any help with the cultivation.

In this male-dominated society, she stressed that not having a man in the family who could travel to a nearby town to get work made it hard to make a reasonable living.

"We sell water to the brick-makers and at the construction site for the secondary school," she says.

"If you fill one large drum - it's 5 SDG," she says, which is what it costs to buy a one malwa (about 3kg) sack of sorghum.

"But the work there is almost finished so we will have to go back to the collection of firewood.

"This is tedious work and one bundle sells for 1 SDG," she says.

The compound (left) and Arek Anyiel Deng and her familly (right) (Photos by Save the Children's Colin Crowley)

Ms Anyiel, who is now in her thirties, is one of about 4,000 slaves returned home by 2008 thanks to the efforts of groups working with the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC).

Since then funding for the programme has dried up - partly because of allegations about the misuse of funds - and Anti-Slavery International estimates that 10,000 southern Sudanese are still unaccounted for.

Our conversation is occasionally interrupted by a speeding lorry or bus, which throws up clouds of dust.

The raised road about 50 metres from their hut is one of the few visible signs of progress since their return.

Khalid in sunglasses (Photo by Save the Children's Colin Crowley)
In the coming year I will try to go to school

"My oldest daughter Kamala has also had a daughter," says Ms Anyiel.

"I like it, I like being called grandmother."

Kamala says she worries for the future of her two-year-old, Abuk Kamala, as they are not supported by the child's father.

"But there's nothing to do; we have to live like this," she says.

When talk turns to politics, Kamala giggles and says she is not interested or well-informed.

Her mother is more concerned about gaining independence for the south in the referendum due to take place in January 2011.

"Yes - we want the referendum to succeed but our hope is very low," she says.

"We are not often thinking about such things - I'm just looking for the food just to live."

As the interview finishes, Khalid enjoys posing for photos in his sunglasses.

Possibly buoyed by all the attention he says: "In the coming year I will try to go to school."

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