Street boys in South Sudan
Anthropology student Rebecca Haque spent the summer doing an internship at the British Council in South Sudan. She writes about her experience in the world’s newest country.
Growing up in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Ghana, I have had the privilege to be exposed to vastly different environments and living spaces. The double-edged sword of that privilege comes with my consequent habituation to the presence of grave disparities in wealth, that in turn impinge on educational, health and economic opportunities.
So, it was not the initial shock of contrast in environment upon my arrival from New York City that sparked a very profound summer break. Rather, it was my opportunity to volunteer with the British Council South Sudan, which afforded me a unique lens through which to understand the situation within the world’s newest country.
As an undergraduate student of anthropology, ‘the Sudan’ is the historic workplace of practitioners like Evans-Pritchard, studies motivated by policies of a vastly different ideological time period. My interests lie in the mechanisms of cultural systems, the depth of cultural relativity, and their relation to the broader implementation of social systems designed to help a community.
All this theoretical understanding, of course, starts with real-life interaction. And that is exactly what the British Council gave me.
My responsibilities at the office were varied. Highlights included helping to interview teachers for classes that Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) participants would teach, providing administrative support for said CELTA course, doing groundwork research on primary and secondary schools in Juba, and poring over the dire statistics of the 2011 education statistics report.
There were the leaps and bounds I gained in practical clerical experience. Operating an office in Juba meant that we were faced with snowballing challenges. Heavy rain meant the closing down of public transport, which meant that teachers could not attend workshops, which meant teacher trainers had to restructure lesson plans. Malfunctioning technology was a common theme, as were the challenges of low connectivity and those brought by the fact that the office is located at the back of an infamous bar.
The jewel of my experience, however, was the supreme social benefits of a small office environment. My colleagues at the British Council welcomed my uninvited arrival, and fostered the beginnings of a subliminal understanding of South Sudan. From the office’s accountant, I learnt of the dynamics that exist within a highly-divided society where tribe is paramount. While unjamming the photocopier, the project manager and I spoke of our highly-varying opinions on the roles and rights of women. Watching a theatre performance at the Juba Day School brought to the surface pertinent social issues, such as alcoholism and perceptions of foreign involvement in the community.
The profundity of my experience in Juba will stay with me for a long time. It is difficult for me to give a completely coherent explanation of my time there. Instead, I am left understanding the implications of the experience on my personal opinions and course of study, long after I have left. At this stage of my study and work experience, I feel that is all that I can ask for. My experience with the British Council South Sudan has surely given me that.