From child soldier to educationist: The sobering tale of Dr Isaac Ayii

From child soldier to educationist: The sobering tale of Dr Isaac Ayii
Children who once served as soldiers under SPLM/Army. [Photo, Yiep Joseph]

At the tender age of 13, Dr Isaac Ayii left his home and trekked hundreds of miles to Ethiopia to get education. But this journey quickly morphed into a conscription exercise, and before he knew it, he was among the new soldiers, fighting for the SPLM/A in the liberation war with the Sudanese Government.

“I was only 13 when I left my parents in Warrap and teamed up with hundreds of other children who were being taken to Ethiopia by SPLM/A with the promise of education,” Ayii City Review.

But this lie would not last long.

When they reached the various training camps, a semblance of education system was created. They would study under trees, but not regularly. Soon it became apparent that the education promise was just but a bait.

“We were supposed to at later years fight in the war with Sudan’s successive regimes,” he says.

It was not going to be a walk in the park staying at the camps. Here, Ayii faced all manner of nightmares including food scarcity, lack of access to medical care, let alone getting an education. The minors who would not withstand the harsh situations died.

“My education started in Ethiopia in 1988 alright but other prevailing factors would make it impossible to proceed. In 1991 there was regime change in Ethiopia and somehow we were chased out and we had to come back to South Sudan to continue with education at SPLM/A liberated areas” he says.

Later he would establish that the Ethiopian Civil War that left at least 1.4 million people dead – a civil war in Ethiopia and present-day Eritrea, fought between the Ethiopian military junta known as the Derg and Ethiopian-Eritrean anti-government rebels from September 1974 – came to an end in May 1991 when the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) was defeated in Eritrea and President Mengistu Haile Mariam fled the country.

The new regime would not tolerate SPLM/A activities on Ethiopia soils.

“Due to war, I have studied in many primary schools but without report cards, I just received one in Kenya that is for primary six. I could not settle at all. War affected me a lot” he says.

In 1996, his elder brother who picked him up from Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya to Adjumani in South Sudan was shot dead in the war, thus throwing him further into despair. But he had to do his best to change his fortunes. 

“So I got division one and was admitted in St Mary Seminary in Adjumani to study secondary level under Torit Diocese that is from Senior One to Senior Four from 1998 to 2001, ” he says.

The founder of Juba Institute of Health Science which he established in 2014 holds a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Education from Makerere University Uganda, High Education Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery from Mulago Health Institute a Diploma in Clinical Medicine and Public Health Maridi Health Science Institute.

He is also pursuing a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University and a Bachelor of Law at the University, broth from the University of Juba. He is an Entrepreneur and consultant in medical education and public policy.

Despite a thorny childhood, his commitment to education and the zeal that he attaches to it is unmatched.

At forty, he is the founder of Juba Institute of Health Sciences, Unity Clinic and Ayii University which is under construction. 

.He told The City Review that since he established Juba Institute for Health Sciences in 2014 over 2000 students have graduated and absorbed in various institutions. 

Martin Gatluak graduated from Juba Institute for Health Sciences with a Diploma in Nursing. He is an Assistant Nurse at Akobo Health Centre in Jonglei State.

“I can now comfortably put food on the table,” he told The City Review.

Stella Aboa graduated from the same institution with a Diploma in Pharmacy. While her peers could be looking for jobs or already employed, she is running her own pharmacy in Lakes State. 

“I consider myself to be working for the people. I must thank God and the administration of Juba Institute of Health Sciences for the knowledge,” says Aboa.

Dr Ayii says he is building the University from the money he has raised from the institute and the clinic.

“My advice to the people of South Sudan is that we should do business that impacts lives. Identify your key strengths and build goals around them that you can then start working towards achieving,” he says.

He says he discovered that he could teach, which turned out to be his passion as well and he has never looked back. But for those who wish to get to where he is and past, the golden rule is that you start small.

“My youths are inspired because when I started this business, I was 30 years and now my students have started their clinic across the country while others are planning, many of my students are working with NGOs” he said.