From the gas station to the classroom

From the gas station to the classroom
March 14, 2023 Susan Oxley

Emmanuel Patrick’s father was a teacher, and as a young boy he dreamed of one day becoming a teacher himself.

Yet school wasn’t always easy, and he needed income for his family, so when Emmanuel graduated from secondary school in Yambio, South Sudan, he started working in a gas station, pumping fuel into trucks and other vehicles.

Then one day, Sister Margaret Scott stopped to fill her tank. An Australian Sister of Our Lady of the Missions, Sister Margaret was principal of the Solidarity Teacher Training College just down the road. The school is sponsored by Solidarity with South Sudan, an international network of Catholic groups supporting leadership development in Africa’s newest country.

Sister Margaret and Emmanuel started talking.

“Sister Margaret encouraged me to join the Solidarity Teacher Training College. I started thinking about it. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But I finally decided to quit my job and join the college in 2015. It was hard. Studying was tough. But I tried my best, and I graduated in 2017,” Emmanuel said.

He got a job in the small village of Riimenze, which at the time was overrun by families displaced by armed conflict. Besides working in the classroom, he has helped students in the St. Dominic Savio Primary School to manage a garden that grows food for the school’s lunch program.

Sister Margaret said Emmanuel’s career has been exemplary.

“He became a very good mentor to other teachers, and a strong moral leader,” she said. “Emmanuel had strong ideas of right and wrong, and he encouraged his colleagues to follow the right path.”

In 2020, when the government introduced a new teaching methodology, Sister Margaret says that Emmanuel’s participation in the first workshops convinced leaders to send him to Rumbek to present the same workshop to his peers there.

As a teacher, Emmanuel hasn’t ignored the war that has raged outside the classroom. Instead, he has focused on changing the culture that allows such unchecked violence.

“As a teacher, I have a great responsibility to build peace among the children of South Sudan. We teach them how problem solving can be done here in the school, and with that we’ll encourage development of their problem-solving skills. Not to tackle the big conflict, but rather to help them deal with little issues, where bringing two parties together to discuss things can lead to resolutions. That’s one way we help them learn how to be responsible citizens of South Sudan,” he said.

Emmanuel says that the cooperation and collaboration he learned inside the Solidarity Teacher Training College–which brings together students from around the country–has proved a helpful model for teaching in a rural village.

“Before studying in Solidarity, we had that culture of hatred among us. We South Sudanese believe that only our own tribe has the best people. But inside the premises of Solidarity, we were together as brothers and sisters. We learned it was better to be together. Although at the beginning we might look at each other as opponents or enemies, when we were together we came to understand that these other people are just like us, so there’s no need to hate or discriminate,” he said.

“Solidarity has helped us to build social cohesion, to better communicate among ourselves and better love each other.”

Scott says Emmanuel is exactly the kind of teacher that the STTC hopes to nurture.

“He has come a long way from serving fuel to teaching, and it’s wonderful to see his development and his dedication to education,” she said.

Story and photo by Paul Jeffrey

Above: Teacher Emanuel Patrick in class in the Catholic-sponsored St. Dominic Savio Primary School in Riimenze, South Sudan.

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