AFTER years of planning, fundraising and red-tape the Hendry’s family hopes to improve the plight of South Sudanese girls has taken a devastating blow.
December’s outbreak of war between the Government and opposition and their battle for the power of Jonglei State’s capital Bor has seen further setbacks for the ‘Bryn’s Schools’ latest project.
Together with South Sudanese women’s organisation the Baai-Bor women, ‘Bryn’s School’ have spent the past few years building a school in the heart of Bor for girls.
With only the finishing touches left, the school was set to be opened early this year, realising the Hendry family’s dream of taking the first step toward educating young women in South Sudan.
But, after years of unrest, last December things took a turn for the worst, with an outbreak of war in the state’s capital.
“When I last travelled to Bor in October the school was at the stage where all it needed were doors, windows and paint,” Bryn’s School’s George Hendry said.
“But in mid-December war broke out and the capital Bor where the school has been built was taken over.
“The opposition took over control of the city twice and the Government troops regained control twice.”
For the next two months George could only watch on via the news as the conflict escalated.
“The opposition killed thousands of people; Bor has a population of 300,000 people and none of them are living in the town, they have all evacuated and are hiding in the bush with nothing to eat and the wet season fast approaching,” he said.
“Some have returned to Kenya, others have made it to Uganda to refugee camps.
“It is horrible, they raided Bor and destroyed houses and a lot of the infrastructure, they completely destroyed the place and millions were looted.”
Unable to get any information on the school, George continued to rely on media reports.
“I watched every bit of news that I could, but I couldn’t get any news on the school,” he said.
“I was watching Al Jazeera one night and there was a lady standing on the road, with dead bodies lying there, if the camera had of panned just 50m up, there would’ve been the school.”
In mid-February the school’s builder was finally able to return to Bor and deliver mixed news to George.
“The school had survived, it had not been burnt down like so many other buildings,” he said.
“I think the fact that it was just a brick building and they couldn’t actually burn it down is the only reason why.
Despite the good news that the physical structure was still standing, the school had also fallen victim to looters.
“We had lots of building materials in the school, probably about $10,000 to $15,000 worth,” George said.
“I had previously sent money to the builder to buy doors and the final things we needed before opening the school.
“But when the builder was able to get back into Bor, it had all been looted.
“The opposition took everything they could, but the school building survived and that is the main thing.”
The war has also affected George on a personal level, with several friends he has met during his time working in Bor among those killed.
“I have lost about six or eight people that have known and have been helping with the school, all we can do is presume people dead if their families don’t hear from them,” he said.
“Bodies are just being pulled from homes and put into mass graves.”
With the Government back in control for now, some people are starting to move back into the city.
“A few people have moved back into Bor now, but most are still hiding in the bush and they won’t come back now because they have missed planting season there is nothing for them to eat.
“They will be relying on aid.”
With major aid organisations moving in, the school will become a base for Oxfam when it is safe enough for them to return.
“So for now it looks like Oxfam will lease our school building to deliver famine relief and basic aid; it’s great that the building will be being used,” he said.
“When it is safe and the bigger organisations start moving back in the main focus will be to keep these people alive because the wet season is approaching and it will last until October and there is no food.”
When things settle and it is deemed safe, George will return to Bor.
In the meantime he is busy raising funds to replace the stolen supplies.
“I have been working my butt off raising money,” he said.
“I had been to-ing and fro-ing about how we were going to run the school, but now I think the main thing is to get as many girls into the school as possible.
“Educating women is important for the whole country…It is vital.”