It was on Friday, a day characterized with calmness and heavy rain in the afternoon, when we got in touch with Rev. John Chol Daau. An Anglican priest, Rev. Daau founded the Good Shepherd Academy in Juba to educate the next generation of South Sudanese Christian leaders.
Good Shepherd Academy, along with its subsidiary college and seminary, is a pre- and primary school operating in a simple compound. The subsidiary college and seminary offer vocational training in leadership development, management, counseling, reconciliation and biblical studies. Located in Sherikat and adjacent to the western side of Don Bosco compound in Gumbo South, the Academy section opened its doors to over 117 children of three to fourteen years in 2016. As the name suggests, the twin-schools promote and advocate for Christ-centered philosophy of leadership. Both the Good Shepherd Academy and seminary seek to instill Christian values and the personality of Jesus Christ as a good shepherd into the learning and lives of its students.
Rev. Daau, whose calling is “leadership development,” founded the academy in 2014. The college and seminary started much earlier in 2004 in Kakuma Refugees Camp in Kenya.
“When I was in college, I used to return to the refugee camp during holidays and share informally what I have learnt with my fellow pastors.
Out of those occasions many people were interested in what I was sharing informally and later I started doing seminars and short training to formalize it a little bit,” Rev Daau explains. “And that is how Good Shepherd College and Seminary came about,” he added.
He said their focus is on pastors, community leaders and most precisely on topics of Christian leadership. Rev. Daau has organized and led teaching mission teams and trips to South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda since 2005 to help (South) Sudanese refugee leaders acquire skills in leadership, pastoral training, counseling, reconciliation and theology. Nearly 2,000 refugees and internally displaced were ordained as lay readers have received some different training we offered using our strategy of mobile training programs, he added.
Rev. Daau’s efforts will go a long way in helping reduce the illiteracy rates facing South Sudan. Currently, the country’s education indicators remain among the worst in the world. It is estimated that more than two million children eligible for primary school do not have access to basic education, while the few schools that do exist are not conducive to learning. The most vulnerable and marginalized in our society in South Sudan are the children, with small children surviving on the streets in urban areas while the bigger ones often resort to such crimes as stealing in order to survive.
After Rev. Daau completed his seminary studies in the USA, he returned to Africa passionate to establish a Christian college and Seminary in South Sudan. But the legal processes and requirements of registration of institutions of higher learning in South Sudan made it difficult to establish the college and seminary as expected. Unfortunately, war broke out again in 2013.
“I do believe many of the world problems (and particularly in the case of South Sudan) can be solved if leaders are grounded in good training. This can only be achieved if there is access to transformative education with Christian philosophy,” said Rev. Daau. “But my wife challenged me and said you know if you want to have good leaders, you have to start [with] them when they are young. Start to nurture them at the young age,” he said, while clarifying his vision and mission. That was when Rev. Daau and his wife, Sarah Alek, started Good Shepherd Academy in 2014 with a vision of molding and nurturing servant leaders for transformation and creation of future peaceful society.
“We have named the school ‘Good Shepherd’ because of our philosophy in leadership. Our Lord Jesus described Himself as the good shepherd in the Gospel of John chapter 10,” explained Rev. Daau. According to Rev Daau, the philosophy of a good shepherd illustrates the leadership attitude of a leader who serves, cares, loves, feeds, and protects his or her people.
“That is why we aspire to instill values of caring, serving, love and unity in the children,” he said. He said he was brought up in a community where he was taking care of cattle. “The role of a good shepherd in my community is important. It means good care and protection over your animals (cattle). Jesus’ claim of his nature of leadership being a good shepherd resonates with the philology of and being a good shepherd in my culture,” he narrated. “The viewpoint of a good shepherd has come alive in my understanding,” he added. We want our teachers to instruct our pupils and parents to bring up children in the way and knowledge of God, he added.
Two years on, today, Good Shepherd Academy (nursery and primary1-3) is a school with 230 pupils, 12 teachers and support staff. With its motto, “Nurturing Winners,” Good Shepherd Academy pays attention and provides opportunity to vulnerable children and children who have no access to quality education.
“Most of our pupils and their parents are not natives or residents of Juba but IDP’s from Yei, Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei and other states which are affected by the war,” he said.
The school also believes in capacity building of its staff. In July, it launched a three-month Intensive English Language
Training aimed at improving and increasing the language capacity of teachers and support staff. Since it obtained its independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has adopted English as its official language of communication. Previously, there was heavy use of Arabic as it was the official language then. The school noticed that its teachers were in need of speaking and writing good English. So far, more than 50 teachers and pastors have been enrolled for this training.
The school hopes to have another batch of learners from Gumbo and Juba to be trained during the coming English language training.
The head teacher of Good Shepherd Academy, John Deng, testifies to the impact of the training being is notable.
“It brings positive results and improved performance of both our pupils and teachers. Our teachers will improve in English language and will be able to write good lesson plans and teach pupils well,” he said.
A teacher at Good Shepherd Academy and one of the training participants, James Agoth Ajang, couldn’t hide his happiness about the English language training. “This training indeed is helping us accumulate much knowledge in our mind. It convinces us of the potential we have. It also tells us light is coming and we are no longer in the darkness,” he explained. According to Ajang, the training has helped them improve on how to speak well in English, and how to write English grammar and how to pronounce English vocabularies well. Now we can speak English better than before,” he said.
The school is challenged in many areas including means of acquiring textbooks for its pupils due to some government requirements that limit access of private schools to supply of books from UNICEF. It also faces a shortage of trained teachers and staffs for its academic development and seminary.
However, the sky is the limit. Five years from now, Good Shepherd Academy sees itself opening more branches in other urban areas of South Sudan, extending its classes and opening a secondary school as well as a theological college to continue offering biblical career guidance and leadership development for its young leaders to adulthood.
Rev Daau’s last message is an appeal in which he urges institutions and individuals to create learning spaces and support efforts for those who want to sit down in class and study.
“Let’s allow our kids to find peace, and to receive some education.” It would be a beneficial thing for all leaders of South Sudan to join hands, work hard to establish conducive spaces for our children and youth to study,” he further added.
Rev. John Chol Daau’s profile
Reverend John Chol Daau is originally from the Diocese of Bor (Episcopal Church of South Sudan). He is a teacher, preacher and writer. Ordained in 2004, Rev. Daau serves as an attached clergy at St. Paul’s Church Athi River (Machakos Diocese) in the Anglican Church of Kenya.
He is a graduate of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry where he earned his Master of Arts in Religion (Systematic Theology and Church History), and of Daystar University (Development and Communication). His interests include organizational leadership, Christian Education, and community development, advocacy and peacebuilding. Rev. Daau belongs to the “lost boys” generation of Sudan. He has lived for several years in various refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. But the Gospel of Christ and faith in Him has been his sustaining strength. Rev. Daau, 42, surrendered his life to Jesus when he was nine-years-old. In his early years, his late uncle, Rev. Elijah Deng Mabior, played a crucial role of mentorship and forming him in the Christian faith. His story is well stated in his book, God’s Refugee.
He travels widely, sharing his story and vision for the future of South Sudan. His vision is to model Christian servant leadership, commitment to promotion of justice, peace and reconciliation in South Sudan and beyond. Rev.
Daau seeks to use his knowledge and skills to follow Christ and promote transformation. He is married to Sarah Alek (a student of psychology at Daystar University) and both of them live in Nairobi with their sons Jacob, Abraham and Isaac.