During the Easter on the 30th of March 2018 we have learned the pass on of the great teacher and caretaker Uncle Majak Nhial, he had been a teacher since 1960s and a father of Jesh Al Ahmer (Red Army) since 1980s in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya. Uncle Majak Nhial (RIP) was known as a grandfather in teaching industry by most teachers that were our teachers in Ethiopia. Although I am not a teacher by profession today, most of my school mates are teachers who are currently teaching and producing other teachers and professionals from different disciplines. I learned the Saddened news of uncle Majak Nhial’s death when my friend and a brother Kur Ayuen Kou a Son in-law to uncle Majak Nhial, married to Athieng Majak Nhial called me on the 31st of March 2018 and broke the sad news, I was struggling with what to say, how to approach uncle Majak Nhial’s family and give them the message of condolences from my sincere heart. It was a shock to lose a Crystal great teacher, caretaker and role model of our time. He was an amazing, compassionate and inspiring person and a wonderful teacher, a role model and caretaker of the Jesh Al Ahmer (Red Army).
Most teachers know when they go into teaching that the consequences of their work may not be entirely appreciated in the moment, that they are planting seeds, as a teacher of many graduates, late uncle Majak Nhial (RIP) told me when I met him in 2012 in Bor Town, South Sudan when I approached him and introduced myself to and told him the millstones that I have in education and thanked him and other teachers in their absence. Uncle Majak Nhial replied to me and said “Yes, there are some days when we leave the classroom KNOWING that we made a difference.” “We saw the light bulb go on.” We heard or watched as a student responded in a new way.” But honestly, we do not always know the students who will be truly moved by our work or who will come back years later to tell us how the seed we planted eventually blossomed.” Teachers are the most powerful people on earth, I told uncle Majak Nhial. Even more than mothers, they affect eternity through the children and young people they work. Jesh Al Ahmer were extremely privileged to have uncle Majak Nhial with them in Pinyudo Ethiopia as their teacher and caretaker. I want to express my deepest gratitude to late teacher and caretaker Majak Nhial and extend my gratitude to all our living and fallen teachers, caretakers and guardians for the care we received from them in the most trying of circumstances. Uncle Majak Nhial was a father figure to all Jesh Al Ahmer. From the depth of my grateful hearts I and the Jesh Ahmer where ever they are will always say a BIG THANK YOU! I pray that the Almighty God keep you in his right hand and grant your beloved ones a blessing.
I quoted from one of the Jesh Al Ahmer and a colleague Daniel Garang Kuir that, ‘Jesh Ahmer’s suffering was, and still is, indescribable. Separated, at young ages, mostly aged between 7 and 16 years old, from the love and care of their families; assembled in the most desolate of places; acutely diseased and often hungry; died, in mass numbers, of rampant diseases and starvation; vulnerably exposed to the extreme elements of nature largely unsheltered, lived in the most unsanitary of conditions, scantily clothed, and made to strenuously labor for their very survival; the horrors of their experiences are therefore beyond words!’ A great caretaking from uncle Majak Nhial and other teachers and Resilient from Jesh Al Ahmer was used to describe the fortitude of the Jesh Ahmer and determination of where we are today.
As we were assembled under the trees in Pinyudo Ethiopia, we started writing and reading A B C D, and 1 2 3 4 and so on under the horrendous conditions. We were assigned to classes under the trees as our classrooms or class trees, lack of food, medicines, hospitals, shelter and clothes just to meet our basic needs had been something of concern to our teachers, but with the outbreak of diseases that caused the death of many children in the camp was beyond imagination. Uncle Majak Nhial and other teachers were always there to support us even if he has nothing to offer but his motivation was more than anything. Uncle Majak Nhial have a great family, beautiful sons and daughters he never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. Only people talked about his great work in education informally in the gatherings. As a passionate teacher, he leaves a far-reaching legacy of kindness, love and the pursuit of lifelong learning. I’m proud to be part of that legacy. From my personal point of view uncle Majak Nhial was one of those legendary figures it seems every school has one who, sticking fast year after year like an axis of the earth, become almost synonymous with the institution itself, in the case of South Sudanese refugee’s education. Every year in Kakuma refugee primary and secondary schools, he sat with the graduates upon the platform, an honor voted by the students; every alumnus who returned to speak to the students called him out by name and devoted a few kind comments to Mr. Majak Nhial. The words I’ll never forget figured prominently in these tributes.
Lately in Kakuma, teachers faced a lot of problems such as funding cuts that result of lack of facilities to run schools. It feels like not only are refugee’s schools and teachers were under attack, but so is the value of dedication and teaching itself, or at least teaching as a creative act, the way the old masters like uncle Majak Nhial did it. More and more emphasis were placed on his self-sacrifices to do anything possible to keep us in classes and teaching continues. SPLM/SPLA commanders in Frontline were inspired by the teachers’ great work in the refugee schools and displaced camps and promised to fight for the freedom of Sudanese people with the hope that Jesh Al Amer will be well equipped with the education and help build the name when freedom is achieved. It was uncle Majak Nhial’s and other teachers’ dream to make this happen despite difficulties in the refugee’s schools.
I found myself realizing his dreams and I termed as legacy of education struggle. I called one of my friends and informed him of the pass on of uncle Majak Nhial and said a tribute message on board with other comments like, ‘I am one of the countless former students whose life was forever changed by the wisdom, kindness and generosity of Mr. Majak Nhial.’ Soon I began pondering a question I should have thought about 30 years ago when I entered this educational journey, what does it mean to be a great teacher? I’m not alone in wondering about this question but it took myself and Jesh Al Ahmer great observation to find out what makes a great teacher. In a pithy, withering in piece in education journey, one of our former teachers answered my questions after having a great conversation with him and he said a great teacher: has a sense of humour, is intuitive, knows the subject matter; listens well, is articulate, has an obsessive/compulsive side, can be subversive, is arrogant enough to be fearless, has a performer’s instincts, is a real taskmaster. Uncle Majak Nhial fit all ten of these categories perfectly, but I would add one thing that is his love for kids or young people that were under his care in both schools and communities.
Teachers Change Lives It is not an exaggeration to say that a great teacher can change a student’s life. There are an endless number of stories that attest to the benefits of a strong relationship between uncle Majak Nhial and the students he taught as well as Jesh Al Ahmer. As he was one of the most influential role models for developing students, uncle Majak Nhial was also responsible for more than just academic enrichment. He was a great educator as he was connected to his students where he reaches them on multiple levels. Because I believed the best teachers are committed to their students’ well-being both inside and outside the classroom. Uncle Majak Nhial had forged a strong relationship, that he was able to affect virtually every aspect of students’ lives, teaching us the important life lessons that helped us succeed beyond term papers and standardized tests.
It is not always easy to change a student’s life, but it took a great teacher like uncle Majak Nhial to do so. Some of us just need an extra push like the student whose life were so miserable in the refugee camps, some students were going through something troubling in their personal lives and need someone to talk to, Uncle Majak Nhial was there for us. Whatever the student needs to help them excel, uncle Majak Nhial as a life-changing teacher was always there for them. Uncle Majak Nhial was an inspirational teacher, he inspired us to work harder and pursue multiple goals, some us were inspired to become educators by him. Inspiring students are integral to ensuring their success and encouraging them to fulfil their potential. Students among Jews Al Amir, who were inspired by their teachers were and are still able accomplishing amazing things, and that motivation almost always stays with us. Inspiration can also take many forms, from helping students through the academic year and their short-term goals, guiding them towards their future career. Years after graduation, many working professionals in South Sudan and diaspora still cited uncle Majak Nhial and many teachers as they were one who fostered their love of what they currently do and attribute their accomplishments to those educators, where uncle Majak Nhial was never forgotten.
Uncle Majak Nhial was a trusted source of advice for students who were weighing important life decisions. Educators can help their students pursue higher education, explore career opportunities and compete in events they might otherwise have not thought themselves able to. South Sudanese students often look at uncle Majak Nhial as their mentor with experience and knowledge, and, as an educator, you will almost definitely be asked for advice at some point during your career. An African word of wisdom says, it takes a whole village to raise the child, but I would like to say it took uncle Majak Nhial and other teachers and caretakers to raise the teachers and professionals of different disciplines that South Sudan have today. Late uncle Majak Nhial heavily invested in education in his integral life, his passion for education has raised hopes and aspiration to Jesh Al Amer during SPLM/SPLA liberation struggle and up to today where we witnessed the aspiring professionals with degrees, master’s degrees and PHD holders in different fields. I am one of these important professionals. I am a graduate accountant and financial analyst and years of professional experience in Australia. And so, it is time to appreciate our late uncle, teacher and caretaker Majak Nhial for the seeds that he worked for throughout his entire life are ripened and it is up to the nation of South Sudan to make use these important seeds. REST IN PEACE great man.
By Henry Makuei Khor
Accountant and financial analyst
South Sudanese Peace and economic and development advocate