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Free Chinese language lessons open new horizons for migrants in South Sudan

Congolese national Collin Baraka,35, packed his bags in December 2021, leaving his native Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for South Sudan in search of career opportunities.

He did not immediately find the lucrative paying job he had assumed at first, but instead on the advice of his close Rwandan friend, Ambassador Mutebutsi he enrolled in July this year for the Chinese language class at Juba Day Secondary School.

Baraka is among hundreds of Chinese language students who have to juggle between work during morning hours and attending language lessons in the afternoon in a small classroom in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

He says his eagerness to learn Chinese language could open opportunities for him to return and find work with Chinese companies in his native DRC.

“Learning a new language is much important than money, because you can get money and it gets finished but learning a language sticks in your mind,” he says in an interview with The Juba Echo on Tuesday.

“I know with my Chinese language I will be in better position to get job opportunities with Chinese people in my country. Chinese people are also in my country looking for minerals and undertaking big construction projects,” says Baraka who is fluent in French and English languages.

Ambassador Mutebutsi, who is Baraka’s close associate, operates a small business in Nyakuron suburb of Juba and still finds time to attend Chinese language lessons.

He says in his native Rwanda enrolling for Chinese language now has become quite expensive due to high public demand, adding that South Sudanese have great opportunity to learn it for free.

“I would like to tell the people of South Sudan not to lose this opportunity, in Rwanda when Chinese language lessons started around 2015, they were free but now people are paying much money to study the language,” Mutebutsi said.

The Chinese language learning and cultural exchange program under Phase II Technical Cooperation Project of Education in South Sudan opened in July 2021.

Up to the end of Nov. 2022, about a hundred certificates have been given out to the learners who have demonstrated passion and competence in the Chinese language at language center in Juba Day Secondary School.

Mutebutsi says learning Chinese language has increasingly become a trending phenomenon for many people in East Africa due to the growing influence of China in Africa.

“I recommend the people of South Sudan not to lose this opportunity. Today, we know China is an influential player in global affairs and on the African continent, this is why the people of South Sudan should not lose this opportunity to learn Chinese language,” he notes.

Ismail Kuyu, a 18-year-old unemployed South Sudanese who is awaiting to enroll for university education, says he enrolled in June for Chinese language lessons because he wants to apply for scholarship to study in China.

“Chinese language is an international language that is widely spoken. I want to learn it because it increases my chances of getting employment with any Chinese company or a scholarship to study at a Chinese university,” Kuyu says.

 He adds, “It’s a little bit difficult to learn the language but when you put in your faith it becomes simple to learn it”.

Hans Daniel, 26, an intern doctor at Juba Teaching Hospital, says Chinese people are contributing a lot to the development in South Sudan.

“Chinese have done a lot of projects here such as the modernization of Juba Teaching Hospital, and they have several experts who are helping South Sudanese,” he says.

Daniel says he got inspired to enroll for Chinese language lessons to tap into the skills of the China medical teams working at Juba Teaching Hospital.

“They have advanced skills in medicine, but we need to learn Chinese language in order to tap into their skills for our own benefit,” he says.

Gatluak Duop William, a student of civil engineering at the University of Juba, says he decided to enroll for the language lessons immediately after joining university in January.

“I made sure to pursue my Chinese language lessons since it is for free, I actually could not miss the chance,” he says.

“South Sudanese especially the youth should not miss this great opportunity because in the future it could cost a fortune to learn Chinese language,” he adds.

Zhao Yongqiang, a Chinese language and culture facilitator and also the residential supervisor for the center, says his students have the challenge of balancing between work and attending lessons of which some have ended up not meeting the balance.

“I ask some of them why they don’t frequently attend classes, they tell me they need to look for money for upkeep,” he says.

However, Zhao notes that the Phase II Technical Cooperation Project of Education in South Sudan that concludes in July 2024 has been a success.

“There are many students who speak fluent Chinese language. I have been encouraging my students to often practice the language by visiting Chinese people to interact with them. This language requires one to practice by interacting with those who are fluent in it,” he says.

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