A positive spillover of the restoration of the Upper Nile University campus in Malakal is the emergence of small business opportunities like Awut's tea stall.
Midday, the sun is scorching hot, with temperatures reaching 36 degrees Celsius in what was once a bustling city in South Sudan, Malakal. A group of construction workers and engineers, crowd around a stall under an Acacia tree, while they wait for their lunch and piping cup of Kerkede tea, a local drink made from Hibiscus flowers.
The tea stall is owned and managed by Awut Lual originally from Bor who shifted to Malakal after her marriage. She grabbed onto the opportunity to start her business when the reconstruction of the Upper Nile University's Malakal campus begun in June 2019. "The idea to start serving lunch and tea came up when I noticed that the access to refreshments was limited around the campus. I saw the opportunity and grabbed it," Awut shares.
In the true entrepreneurial spirit, Awut believes that where there are people, she can find simple ways to generate a sustainable income for her family. The 38-year-old mother of seven children makes a living out of this small yet effective business set up. She finds that the additional income she generates helps in meeting her family’s basic needs, including her children's school fees. On how much she earns through the stall, she says, "I make approximately SSP 6,000-10,000 (USD 50-70) a week. Almost all the workers in the university come to be in the morning and afternoon."
Prior to the conflict, Malakal was once a busy city with a fully functional university and bustling businesses. Today, the town is quiet and different. But women like Awut are refusing to give up and are determined to build back the city to what it was before the war. On her plans, she says, "I plan to grow my business by saving up to start a cafeteria when the university is reopened. This way, I can provide refreshments at a nominal cost to students and faculty every day."
Creating a ripple effect, Awut's active participation in business has inspired other women to start similar tea stalls across the campus.
The reconstruction of the university is set to deliver a major improvement to the university’s infrastructure and make possible relocation and full resumption of learning at the university’s Malakal campus.
A positive spillover of the initiative is the emergence of small business opportunities like Awut's tea stall. In addition, the activities around the reconstruction of the university have resulted in the creation of over 340 jobs to date.
The Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology in South Sudan, the University of Upper Nile in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with support from the Government of Japan, is reconstructing the Upper Nile University’s Malakal campus, and the establishing the University of Juba Cultural Centre. The rebuilding of the campus is on track to be handed over to the university by May 2020.
With young people making up 70 percent of the country’s population, Upper Nile University’s presence in Malakal is expected to generate opportunities for young people, reorient them from crisis and give them space to become important social actors for the country.