With aid from local immigrants, the South Sudan school leads by example, welcoming children from four different tribes.

In South Sudan, about 350 children have begun attending classes in a school built with money raised by Sudanese immigrants in Portland.

The school is more than just a building for teaching children how to read and write, said Mary Otto, president of ASERELA, the Action for Self Reliance Association, the Portland group that built the school.

In the past few months, the world’s newest country has become engulfed in a civil war fueled by a power struggle between ethnic tribes. But this new school accepts children from each of the four tribes in the area and serves as an example of what can be achieved if members from different tribes build relationships, Otto said.

“The school will do a lot. It will unite people in that area,” she said. “That is our hope.”

The Sudanese community in Portland since 2009 has been raising money for the school, which is still unfinished. A roof has been erected over two classrooms, but two others remain uncovered, Otto said. The school opened for students four months ago, and there’s already a waiting list, she said.

The school is located in Kit, a town between the Uganda border and Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

War and underlying poverty have left the farming region with little or no infrastructure such as roads and schools.

Since mid-December, thousands of people have been killed and more than 800,000 displaced after fighting broke out among presidential guards in Juba and then spread across the country. Ugandan forces are fighting alongside the South Sudanese military as it tries to put down a rebellion led by former Vice President Riek Machar, whose dismissal last year sparked ethnic tension in a country with a history of divided ethnic loyalties.

Otto’s group has raised $30,000 since 2009 for the school and is trying to raise another $50,000 to finish the project, she said. Besides a roof, the school needs windows, doors and bathrooms. The walls need to be plastered, and the school’s only water pump needs to be fixed, she said.

The group is holding a fundraising dinner this Saturday at the Reiche Community School in Portland. The event begins at 5 p.m. and tickets can be bought at the door or online at www.aserela.org.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:[email protected]