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Fishing for an Education

Yacob, a 10-year-old refugee, uses a stick to catch fish near Yida, South Sudan

Yacob, a 10-year-old refugee, uses a stick to catch fish near Yida, South Sudan. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell

Yida, a town surrounded by wetlands in a remote part of South Sudan, sits just 12 kilometres from the border and is home to nearly 70,000 refugees escaping conflict in Sudan. At the same time, intense fighting between opposition and government troops in South Sudan has also led many thousands of internally displaced people, or IDPs, to seek refuge here.

A great many of the people sheltering in Yida are children who were forced to flee their homes and saw their schooling put on hold. Despite limited resources, education remains a high priority among families here.

And so, many enterprising children in Yida have turned to fishing. It is not only a source of food, but also form of income – a way to pay for school fees and books and pursue a greatly prized education.


At the first light of day, Sudanese refugees walk towards a lake formed by floodwaters near the town of Yida, South Sudan. They are looking for mudfish. Late in the rainy season, children from Yida arrive by the hundreds to fish at the temporary lake. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell

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Shortly after dawn, two men cast a net in a shallow, seasonal lake near Yida, South Sudan. Mudfish are in abundance at this time of year, sometimes wriggling overland and eventually becoming trapped in small lakes like this one as floodwaters recede. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell


Hundreds of children displaced by fighting in Sudan and South Sudan look for mudfish in a seasonal lake near the town of Yida, South Sudan. The little money they earn from selling the fish helps support their families – and sometimes pays their school fees. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell

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Lacking proper fishing equipment, children use sticks to stun the fish when they surface. With more people in the water, it is easier to disturb the fish and force them to move to the surface. Invariably everyone ends up covered in mud. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell


A young refugee from Sudan holds his catch of mudfish in a shallow lake formed by floodwater near the town of Yida, South Sudan. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell


Yacob Ibrahim, a 10-year-old refugee from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, fishes in a lake near Yida, South Sudan. Yacob’s family fled Sudan three years ago and now live in Yida with thousands of other refugees. Like most of the children fishing here, he uses a stick to strike the fish when they surface. “This is a job for me. I do it to buy pens and exercise books for school,” he says. “I fish on weekends and sometimes during the week.” © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell


Dictor Arak, 15, leads three friends – Miakol Kiir, 14, Guor Path, 14, and Kir Buth, 15 – to check their net at a swamp near Yida where they fish on the weekends. The boys, all displaced by the fighting in South Sudan, fish to raise money for school fees and books. “I do not want to interrupt my schooling further,” says Dictor, who wants to become a doctor. “You know I was away from class for four months? I need to catch up. But all of my books were lost, so I had to start over again. That’s why I fish. With the money I buy food for the family first, but then also I put it to savings to pay for school materials and fees.” © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell

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Kir Buth, 15, holds a fish caught moments earlier at a swamp near Yida, as Guor Path, 14, and Dictor Arak, 15, look on. Displaced by the fighting in South Sudan, the boys fish with their friends to raise money for schoolbooks and school fees. “I just watched others doing it and then I learned how,” says Guor, explaining how he started to fish after the conflict uprooted his family. “It was peaceful in Bentiu before. I didn’t need to do this. Then the war came and we had to run away, my mother and my three brothers and two sisters. My father is still there.” © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell

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Carrying their day’s catch, Kir Buth, 15, trails Guor Path, 14, and Dictor Arak, 15, on their way back from a swamp near Yida, South Sudan. They will immediately take the fish to market to sell, sharing the money equally. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell

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At the market in Yida, South Sudan, Kir Buth, 15, and Dictor Arak, 15, try to sell the mudfish they caught in a nearby swamp. Dictor was displaced from his home in Bentiu when fighting broke out between government and opposition troops in December 2013. He fled north to Yida with his family. “I was living in Bentiu there and things were okay,” Dictor says. “We were at school and my father was working and bringing us some money so that we could study. Then there was this war that started between the Dinkas and the Nuers. It is nothing to do with most of us, but it became very dangerous there. People were being killed everywhere. We had to run, without even carrying one piece of our property.” © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell


Second from right, Dictor Arak, 15, joins other students in a class at Yida Refugee Primary School in Yida, South Sudan. Dictor, who dreams of becoming a doctor, pays for his schoolbooks with the money he earns from catching and selling mudfish. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell


Guor Path, 14, and Miakol Kiir, 14, attend class with other pupils at Yida Refugee Primary School, in Yida, South Sudan. The boys catch fish to raise money for school fees and books. “When we arrived here we had nothing, no clothes we carried, no pots, no school books, so we had to go fishing,” Miakol says. “We go for three days and come back on Monday morning for school. [Fishing] is not hard, but you do not earn a lot of money, and the place is far away and far from home. We stay there alone.” © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell