Building Hope for Education in South Sudan

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SOUTHERN SUDAN — Since December 2013, children of Southern Sudan face subjection to war, hunger, and poverty. There is little optimism in the media’s coverage regarding Southern Sudan.

However, some people standing against illiteracy have carried positive strides in recent months. With 2 million being displaced and 70 percent of schools being shut down, assistance from Project Education South Sudan (PESS) brings opportunity to children in an unstable time.

About 50.6 percent of South Sudan was living in poverty as of 2006. Project Education Southern Sudan, housed in Colorado, is determined to make optimistic headway in light of recent events.

As a non-governmental organization working with the Republic of South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, the organization was founded in 2005 with a mission to address primary schooling in rural areas.

Back in 2005, Carol Rinehart and Isaac Bher, a former Lost Boy, went to South Sudan to meet Bher’s mother from Konbek village. After speaking with the elders of the village, they all agreed that education for women was needed in the community. Another goal sighted by PESS was to emphasize the inclusion of women in schools.

Ayak Angei Girls’ Primary Boarding School, the only all-girls school around, was built in 2008 with the help of PESS and the community. PESS constructed two dormitories for 700 girls in 2010.

This was during a time when 0.8 percent of girls in the country were in primary school and only 400 were in secondary school in 2011 according to UNESCO.

With extreme poverty clutching the nation, school uniforms were the only garments girls owned. About 16 percent of women ages 15 and older were literate in 2009.

About 68 percent of the country disapproved of the government’s lack of investment in education. Only 35 percent of the teachers in South Sudan have just a primary school education while 42 percent of the national budget puts military and security costs first.

However, another Lost Boy involved with PESS is co-founder and executive director Daniel Majok Gai. He fled from conflict in the 1980s and gained U.S. citizenship after years of living in Kenya and Ethiopia as a refugee. He returned to Southern Sudan in 2011.

He relocated to Nairobi, Kenya with his family after the conflict re-emerged in 2013. He visits South Sudan working with PESS to build schools for girls.

About 3000 boys and girls have not attended school for a year. Gai has managed to help seven girls get an education in Juba, and he’s confident more will receive support from PESS. He claims 300 people are crossing the Nile River each day to get back to Bor.

Gai and Tamara Banks met with Bor County Commissioner Abraham Mamer Ruk to discuss the effects of the HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership and the Sanitary Pad Production Programs operated through PESS. These programs discuss multiple topics and are designed to train students and teachers.

Gai and Banks also visited Pagook, a village that witnessed destruction in 2013, but some of its population has returned home. The programs are teaching women in different schools to hone their sewing skills. At graduation, they were given sanitary pads sewn by volunteers from the U.S. and other personal products.

Each school’s graduating class was given sewing machines, scissors, notions, and tools to continue work at home. The intent is to provide resources for women to construct a business venture.

These schools are also encouraging students, who are ages 13 to 20, to talk about gender-bias issues varying from stereotypes to the subject of the female body. Girls are told to explain what they learn to boys.

This level of encouragement fosters lively conversations and respect. It also raises awareness about certain issues concerning HIV and AIDS.

The HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership Program and Menstrual Management Pad Vocational Program have been shared in areas such as Nepal, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Equatoria.

With Bor’s population increasing, the Langbaar Modern Secondary School and John Garang Memorial University in Bor welcomed the programs between the months of February and April this year.

After Ayak Anguei Girls Primary School in Bor was demolished, a former student, Akur, continued schooling at the Malek Secondary Academy. PESS supported her efforts to continue schooling.

Another student, Anna, attends Malek Secondary Academy with the hopes to specialize in medicine in a Post-Secondary school. Abuk, from Pagook, hopes to become a nurse as one of the very few girls who graduated from Malek Secondary Academy.

Prospecting students have a promising future ahead as the programs continue this year. Bor’s and Pagook’s education is starting to kindle again as PESS invests in primary education in South Sudan.

Katie Groe

Sources: NPR, PESS, USAID, Global Giving, CPR, She’s the First, Guide Star, World Bank
Photo: Mott MacDonald

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