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All the narrators talk about education, especially the difficulty of keeping their children in school beyond primary level, because they can’t afford the fees or equipment.

El Emam and Mekki explain that much of the money they earn away from home goes on paying for their children’s education, a responsibility they take very seriously. Mekki has eight children and describes their different educational opportunities and decisions in some detail.

Ismail holds strong opinions on education and its importance: “People have understood now that they can’t develop or progress except through education.” He had to give up his own schooling because of poverty – “If you are poor, you can’t study” – but is dedicated to ensuring his younger brothers complete their education.

Widad also had to give up her education, as did her ‘heartbroken’ younger brother, because their father became ill. Despite this, she has become an agricultural extension worker.

Most narrators talk of a few members in the family being kept in school as long as possible, but single mother Fatima had to take all her six children out of school as there “was nothing for them to eat”.

Naema is in her 80s, but is as fierce in her desire to see the current generation educated as many of the younger narrators. She fought a battle to get their local school registered in the village’s name.


Education is a key theme of the Desert voices: Sudan oral testimony project.


El Emam: no man remains

El Nour: inside my heart

Fatima: women are exhausted

Ismail: broader horizons

Madinah: progress is possible

Mekki: migration for survival

Naema: nothing the same

Osman: make land productive

Sayda: women’s lives

Widad: restoring the village

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Social change




Natural resources



Food security

Mutual support

Looking ahead