The scholarship program that has turned many south Sudanese youths to thugs in Arab Republic of Egypt.
It was once said by Dr. Seuss the Lorex,”Unless someone like you cares a whole awful a lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” Therefore, I have chosen to talk on behalf of all the silent students in the Arab Republic of Egypt. It will be so scandalous for some tenderhearted South Sudanese to learn about the painful story of the suffering that the young South Sudanese searching for the quality education in Egyptian Universities are going through. Egypt, being one of the developed countries in the African continent, has got a strong tertiary educational system thus, making it one of the best countries to study in. Year after year, the Egyptian government releases a good number of scholarship positions in which majority go to mainly the Nile Basin Countries and the rest to the countries with good bilateral relationships with her.
The whole scenario started eight years ago when the Egyptian government pledged to be offering the young independent nation of South Sudan 250 scholarship positions every year, which was a good news for all young South Sudanese. However, the agreement was that the Egyptian government was to be accountable for tuition fees, and be paying $50 as pocket money. The South Sudanese government was to be catering for students’ accommodation which was supposed to be $150 for those living in the hostel and $200 for those renting outside the hostel. Unfortunately, in the year 2014, the government overdue the payment of stipends in which the then students protested. As the students were protesting, their demand was the immediate payment of their grants. The government later failed to address the issue on time which led to the students storming into the Embassy and closing it for three good weeks. The closure of the Embassy was one of the gravest mistakes committed by the then students. The government responded by paying $700 per student according to the report I received. The money was supposed to be for Military College students being taken care of by the Ministry of Defense. In retaliation, the grants were suspended and the students were strongly warned not to ask for any more money from the government again. A punishment which in my opinion was too harsh to be implemented. In the subsequent years later, the government started issuing notice to the students applying for this scholarship. The warning stated “While in Egypt the students shall carter for their own ticket, accommodation and feeding fees and other school requirements.” Thus confirmed that the government had withdrawn the students’ support. One of the students that came in 2015 told me that Benjamin Apai, the then Coordinator, told them during their briefing not to ask for that money when not given or even dare to enquire the exact amount when given little. That is the short background of how young South Sudanese find themselves in what I would correctly call a “Suicidal scholarship deal”.
This topic has lots of concerns not only on the financial point of view, but also on the students’ health, security and future. If I were to be asked to describe this scholarship deal between South Sudan and Egypt, I would describe it as a future- killing deal aimed at dehumanizing the young South Sudanese. One may wonder why it would be branded with such cruel names, but that is what it truly epitomizes.
The financial support question has always been the matter of concern because the last time I checked, no country on this planet Earth would send out her own potential young citizens in masses without any proper financial support. Considering the economic situation in our country, majority of South Sudanese parents are poor peasants or soldiers who can’t even afford buying their daily meals, leave alone sending their sons and daughters to study in foreign lands.
If I were to be given an opportunity to ask questions To Whom It May Concern, my questions would be; why continuously year after year send students to Egypt with no financial support? Why was suspending or terminating the financial assistance chosen as the punishment? How do you think those students are managing to survive in a foreign country without financial assistance? What would you have done if one of them was your child? I am sure those questions are exactly the same questions that any other student studying in Egypt or any other country can ask.
To tell you about the bitter truth, this scholarship is an indirect killing of young potential South Sudanese. Of all students sent here every year, only 30% of the total manage to graduate. One may doubt that figure but that is the reality on the ground. Why is the figure as low as 30%? My answer to that question is that the rate of students dropping out is as high as 60%, and those getting suspended and dismissed constitute the remainder. As a matter of fact, South Sudanese students don’t perform well at the universities simply because of a lot of problems facing them. In the last academic year at Cairo University’s Faculty of Science, it was so shocking that none of South Sudanese girls made it to the next level of which majority changed the course to Commerce. In Fayoum University, only five out of 12 students of the first year managed to pass. Year after year, most of the students are expelled from the universities after repeating the class twice. The reason behind all this is the fact that students have a lot of financial responsibilities at the university; being it buying handouts, research on the internet, paying for the hostel fees and transport. To handle all these, one must have a strong source of financial support which is very unfortunate because we all know the economic situation in our country, and our parents are unable to pay for us. Subsequently, we resort to the low exploitative Egyptian jobs that one has to work for 12 hours in order to get less than $100 per month. Combining a twelve-hour job with studies is very impossible hence, students find it too difficult to attend lectures and miss tests. As a result, they fail the final examination which leads to dismissal from the university. Some other courses like Computer Science and Electronics and Communication Engineering need one to own a personal computer (PC), but unfortunately, South Sudanese students are unable to afford it resulting in a poor performance and the subsequent expulsion.
Working in Egyptian factories also poses a health threat. Most of the students that work in these Egyptian factories come back with sicknesses given how unsafe the work is. These poor students are forced to work in a harsh environment which is hazardous to their health. Most of the factories here are owned by Chinese who love to exploit people without proper payment or treatment in case one gets some injuries. Recently last year, one of the students who managed to work for 2 month in one of those factories was diagnosed with cancer that was later treated with $2500. This money was raised by his community members who volunteered to pay for his treatment. Otherwise, it would have been a different story by now. The case of girls is so different and agonizing. Most of the girls are forced by the situation to go and work as house girls in the Egyptian houses in which some of them suffer sexual harassment and other kinds of injustices, thus making work more difficult here in Egypt. In 2016, one of the students had to commit suicide because he was so frustrated. He was very sick. He tried to go to the Embassy to seek for assistance, and it was all in vain. He threw himself down from a seven storey building which subsequently led to his death. There are more problems associated with working here as can be seen above.
Finance is not the only factor affecting South Sudanese here, insecurity is also another big contributor. The difference here is that this is not the unknown-gunmen kind of insecurity but unknown swordsmen or knifemen. As few students manage to graduate and the rest drop out or get expelled, those expelled resort to thuggery and gang life as the means of survival which pose a security threat to the students pursuing their studies. These thugs have got no mercy for they feel betrayed by their own country, and they got a mindset that those ones still studying are the children of the rich thus making their resentment even more. These young South Sudanese have lost hope that things will change in the future. Some don’t even have legal residence here, and as a result, majority join UNHCR to avoid being arrested by Egyptian Immigration authorities. So our precious youths that are supposed to be studying have resorted to killing their fellow South Sudanese in order to survive. Most of the students had been and are still victims of these merciless ruffians. I remember last year, they chopped the hand of a certain new student as they were struggling to rob him of his phone and couldn’t let go of it. Luckily enough, he was assisted by some Egyptians.
Why is the thuggery rate very high in Cairo? The fact is that majority of South Sudanese staying in Cairo are Refugees who came here long time ago, and most of them didn’t have the chance to go abroad. The kids that grew up here didn’t have a chance to attend schools because the UNHCR here doesn’t give them privileges to study. As a result, they find themselves doing nothing and as it’s popularly known “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” they resort to thuggery and start recruiting any other willing person. Most of the students that came to study but failed to continue don’t hesitate to join them.
In addition to thuggery and financial problem, the issue of valid residence in Egypt can’t be ignored. Every year, students come late to Egypt of which most of them join school late and their files don’t reach their respective schools in time. Hence they are not given the School Identification cards or recommendation letters. As a result, there is a delay in processing their residence subsequently leading to the punishment by Immigration authorities who charge those students with a lot of money. Unable to pay the money, the time keeps running out as they struggle to get the money. The amount of fine increases with time hence, making it hard for one to afford the fine. For this reason, one becomes an illegal student in the country, of which the police and Immigration authorities can capture and him/her anytime. Just recently, majority of students were captured and sent to prison. They were later released and asked to pay for a certain amount of money, and in case they failed they would be deported. Many students, being left with no choice, joined the UNHCR here which makes it more difficult for them to return back to South Sudan. Sometimes, some culprits in the Immigration Department deliberately refuse to process the residence on time in which after it is given, it expires within a short period of time. One would then be told to pay a fine for delaying to process the residence on time. When we report all these to the Embassy, there is no any action that is taken to ensure the safety of the students.
Having gone through all these myself, I feel like I had been sold out, and so do other South Sudanese students feel. There is no any nation without young generation as the backbone of that particular country. Here is the nation that sends out its own young citizens to go and get spoilt and die of deprivation in the foreign lands. Our forefathers, fathers and brothers died to liberate us from; educational marginalization, economic oppression and social injustice from Khartoum regime. We witnessed the independence of our great nation with the hope that things were going to change, but here we are overcrowded in foreign cities in search of education that only a few manage to get.
As a citizen of South Sudan I feel more concerned if the problem is affecting the majority of our population. Therefore, I would like to appeal to the Ministry of Education to revisit the agreement that they signed with the Egyptian government, and at least try to do something for the students at their capacity. Otherwise, you will have no students returning back to South Sudan as many will remain here as refugees for the rest of their lives which will be a big blow to the country. Students are the future seeds of this country, and if we kill their future by sending them out to foreign lands without proper care and monitoring, then we will sooner or later regret it as a nation.
In conclusion, this scholarship in my own point of view is assisting majority of South Sudanese to become thugs, brutes and migrants. We cannot, as a nation, always lose our precious labor force to other countries. I therefore urge the Government of South Sudan and that of Egypt to look into this issue critically, and come up with the strategies of making this deal work out. It will be a waste to both countries since there are only few benefiting while the rest are getting spoilt in the process. We also urge the Government and the warring parties to sign and implement the current ongoing peace as soon as possible such that it allows our country to recover from the current economic setbacks. Instead of allowing foreign powers to impose on us ideas that will bring us difficulties economically by suggesting a cabinet with a jaw-dropping number of members, let’s secure the future of our intellectual growth by educating the nation. Just think of the five Vice Presidents and how much it will cost the government in sustaining them.
God bless South Sudan.
Elijah Achiek Panchol.
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