Friday, April 23, 2021

Half of My Grade One Class Died during the War in Sudan: The Case of Pator Ayual Primary School


By Reuben Garang*

"I came to realize that half of my grade one class died during the war.  Most of them died at frontline as liberators, and only a few died of natural causes. Pator was the first school in the village and many of the students who joined the school with me included those who came from the nearby villages and were above the conventional grade one age; some were more than ten years of age. "   

Photo: Courtesy of the author's Facebook. 

I have a story to tell. The Republic of South Sudan is the world's youngest nation.  This is good. Despite its present challenges of a poor governance system and internal wars, all South Sudanese are proud to have their independent nation. It is hoped that there will come a time for things to change to better the lives of the people of the South Sudan. 

I want to highlight the sacrifices made by my school and community and also provide examples of the impact the war has had on South Sudanese families and communities. The case of my school is likely true of many other schools in South Sudanese communities.  It’s incumbent upon those of us who are alive to record these stories for the world and for the next generations in South Sudan.

Pator Ayual Primary School (Twic East Country, Jonglei State, South Sudan) was built and opened in 1979.  It was the first school ever built in this village. I was among its first 40 students; about 98% of whom were boys.

Recently, I was reflecting on the Sudan’s civil war and on my school.  I came to realize that half of my grade one class died during the war.  Most of them died at frontline as liberators, and only a few died of natural causes. Pator was the first school in the village and many of the students who joined the school with me included those who came from the nearby villages and were above the conventional grade one age; some were more than ten years of age.        

When Pator Ayual Primary School was built in 1979, there was euphoria and curiosity among the villagers.  Families and top community leaders were excited that their request for the first ever school in the village had been answered. The average villagers, who received the news, were curious and inquisitive as to what the school was going to be like. They wondered if this was going to be another way the Sudanese government would try to penetrate and uproot our cultures, or if the majority of children were going to be Turruuk. The word turruuk (plural) here is a localized reference to the Turks, who first colonized Sudan as Turco-Egytians (1821-1885), so any educated person or towner is referred to as a Turuk (singular).   

The locals wondered whether students would spend the whole day in school and if so, who would farm, herd cattle and/or protect the villages when it is their turns.  The villagers also worried about how the school would impact their children and if they would pick up bad habits, and how the school would impact the lifestyle of the village.  These were few examples of the lingering questions in the minds of villagers.

Before Pator Ayual Primary School was built and opened, students from these villages used to go for boarding schools in distant Wangulei Town and other far away schools. Students only came back home during the holidays so their interactions and influences on the lifestyle of the villages was minimal. However, the desire for a formal education was growing and being pursued by sons and daughters some of whom were teachers and/or going to be teachers.   

As the news about the new school circulated, a cousin of mine brought to us the news while we were playing. He was so happy!  He exclaimed: "I am going to be a turuk! I am going to be a teacher like my brothers. And guess what else I will do?"  These were the statements from my cousin Jok Adut Ajak ( Jok Dau Ngiewei) whose  three older brothers were teachers. 

I remember he said he would be a pilot and that his plane would move with speed never before seen. For him, his plane would be faster than any in America because for us any airplane which used to pass over our village was referred to as an America. This young man imitated an airplane sound- Newwooooooneaw├▓ooo├▓├▓oooowae while running around in circles with his hands up in the air, demonstrating to us how he would be flying his plane. 

This was his way of informing us that his parents said he would go to the new school. This was a big deal.  The way he was behaving, by throwing out exciting words and short phrases, raised a lot of excitement and literally left all of us wondering if we would be allowed to enroll in the school as well. He was considered to be a kind of a semi-town boy because he frequently visited members of his family who used to live in different towns. Even on that day, he brought the news to us as he was passing by on his way home from town.   

We were playing and waiting to herd our cattle back home by sunset from the grazing land.  It was like the time would never come for us to go home to talk with our parents about the new school.  The exaggerated news by our cousin made going to school and achieving a desired outcome appear that much easier. Although I was impressed by his demonstration of flying a plane, I had no idea what I would be if I were to go to school.

I went home and talked to my mother and sister about my desire to attend school. They ridiculed me. They laughed at me. I stayed up and waited for my dad. I slept before he came home. The next day he got up earlier and went to work at the farm. I followed him there and asked. He said I might have to wait for two more years before he could let me go. He thought I was too young so he was not comfortable sending me to school. But he said he would think more about it. 

I later joined the school with my cousin, but not the one who brought the news about the school to us. He joined a year later.   

This excitement was short lived.  The Sudanese civil war , which started in 1983, robbed half of my grade one classmates of their precious lives. It has left those of us alive today with bitter memories and scars that cannot be erased.  Every South Sudanese family, school, village and individual has a story to tell about the Sudan's longest civil war or the Independent South Sudan.

I am here to put on the record the story of my school and my grade one class. There are so many stories about the suffering and sacrifices made.  A decade later, many left alive are going through deep and emotional reflections even after achieving the Independent South Sudan as things are not improving.

Pator Ayual Primary School was completely obliterated during the war. It is gone due to the war. The land where it was located is now empty.  But its first class will not be forgotten. I am here to remember the names of every student.  First, I will list those who died during the war.  Then I will itemize those who I believe to be living but I have not heard from them or about them.  I will put question marks beside the names of the individuals I have not heard about.

I am asking the relatives of the students in my Grade One class to contact me should they have any new information to update this story about Pator Ayual Primary School. I hope my readers will learn one or two things from this story. 

The Sudanese second sivil war has robbed everything from this school. It disrupted the beautiful life of growing up in the village. It is undisputable that most South Sudanese who grew up in villages before the war still remember those vibrant days of meaningful vilage life.

Below are the names of Grade One Class at Pator Ayual Primary School. I may have forgotten one or two names. Please contact me if you know them.  I have also added the nicknames of the individuals in the bracket beside their names. These nicknames are so sweet. They bring memories back to me and I think of the times when we used to play in front of our school.  I have also added the names of the teachers.

Those who have lost their lives:

  1.  Garang Ajok Deng  ( Majur-ahamyar) RIP
  2. Ajang Bul Duot  (Ajang-gutajuot)     RIP
  3.  Chol Duot Angok  (Cholzet)          RIP
  4.  Bul Mayen Duot   ( Bul-mareu)  RIP
  5. Ajak Garang Atem  (Patiemdit)  RIP
  6. Bul Manyok Bul-malith  ( Bul-aliekraandit)       RIP
  7. Malith Bul Mabior   (Malithariok) RIP
  8. Juarwell Bul Mabior   RIP
  9.  Bol Mabior-ayomddit    (Bol-manuer)  RIP
  10. Mawut Adeer Pajok ( Mawut-aderyarjok)  RIP
  11. Ajang Deng-akech  RIP
  12. Akoi Kuoiyo Biar    RIP
  13. Ajith Agau Dengkueet ( Bilareb/Geradhum) RIP
  14. Dau de  Reech-manyang  (Dau-madech) RIP
  15.  Pajieth Bul Reech   ( Pajieth-Banybany)  RIP
  16. Majak Giet-ayergak  Chut ( Makooth) RIP
  17. Bior Manyok Biar ( Biorjany) RIP

Those who are alive, those whose whereabout I don’t know, and those from whom I have not heard:

  1.  Madol Manyang Duot ( Madoldit)
  2. Chol Ajang Atem  ( Alenyjotul)
  3. Bior Atem Bior 
  4. Maluak Manyang Duot ( Maluak-mager))
  5. Akoi Dut-pawkheer Ajang
  6. Dut Arok Dut  ( Dut-magai)
  7.  Bul Garang Bul  (Bul-Madhang/Mading)
  8. Makuei Chol Duot ( Makuenachuek)
  9. Makuol Garang Deng ( Makuol Garang-Manyok)
  10. Mayen Deng Mayen
  11. Adeer Akoy Dut ( Ader-machour)
  12. Deng Pajieth Bul ( Gutagal/Gutchier)
  13. Pajieth  Ader Pajook ( Mabior-ager)
  14. Adut Deng woul ( Adutnyaku) ???
  15. Pajieth Bul Pajook ( Thokacieu)
  16. Ayiel Pajieth-chol Bul  ( Ayiel-Mathiec)
  17. Anok Yout Arok  ( Anokmaduljok) ???
  18. Chol Kuol Atiop ????
  19. Alaak Magok Ador
  20.  Malou Malual Deng Bul ( MalonBaar)
  21.  Mayen Garang Atem ( Mayen-mazeeu).

Names of the Teachers

  1. Bul Reech Duot   RIP
  2. Ador Dau Ngiewei  ( RIP)
  3. Kuer Dau Ngiewei
  4. Dau Akoi Jurkuch ( Dau-Jereth)


*Reuben Garang is a project manager with Immigration Partnership Winnipeg (IPW). He has previously worked for the province of Manitoba as Policy Analyst and Community Outreach Advisor. Garang holds a Master Degree in sustainable Development Practice from the University of Winnipeg. You can reach him at 

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