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Celebrate Solutions: Creating Education Opportunities for Girls in South Sudan

By: Sara Pellegrom, Women Deliver

Despite the recent atrocities in Sudan and South Sudan over the last two decades, the VAD Foundation and the Marial Bai Secondary School (MBSS) have only become more committed to their mission of educating Sudanese young people, particularly girls.

Between 1983 and 2005, the turmoil of the civil war in Sudan killed two and a half million people and displaced nearly six million more. South Sudan gained independence in 2011, but faced a new wave of violence in December 2013. Due to this resurgence of fighting, many government agencies, aid organizations, and international companies have left the country for security reasons.

The violence has taken a heavy toll the South Sudanese people, and especially on girls and women. Less than 1% of South Sudanese girls are currently studying at the secondary level and only 8% of women in South Sudan can read and write. On average, a girl spends only six years enrolled in school. Many girls drop out or never even enroll due to marriage, pregnancy, and duties at home, like farming, housekeeping, and fetching water and firewood. In fact, in South Sudan, a girl is seven times more likely to die in childbirth than graduate from secondary school.

The VAD Foundation is changing this. Through community efforts, the organization is seeking to bridge the gap between traditional female roles by demonstrating the importance and benefit of equal education for girls. In 2009, the foundation completed MBSS, which started with a class of 85 students. Located in a regional trading center, the school now educates more secondary school-level girls than any other school in South Sudan and is the highest ranked secondary school in the country that is free for students to attend. During the 2014 school year, MBSS:

  • Increased its student enrollment by 44%;
  • Tripled the number of girls enrolled;
  • Hired six additional teachers; and
  • Issued microloans to female heads of households in Marial Bai.

At full capacity, the dormitories can accommodate 100 girls in an environment that allows them to concentrate on themselves and their education. Making sure to free the young women from all household chores, the school has a paid cook to feed all students and staff. There are also dorm mothers and community members who act as mentors and provide support.

MBSS also has an active community outside of the classroom to help build leadership skills and foster teamwork. There is a student government, drama club, and a debate team. There are a variety of competitive sports teams, including basketball, volleyball, and soccer.

Mary, a third-year student, says:

“I am in school because I want to get a better job. I don’t want to have the same life as before and I want to increase the quality of my life. Normally a day starts for me at 7 am. I get up and bathe but take no tea or breakfast. After school I read and sometimes wash my clothes or hang out and play with other girls. Because I live on the teachers’ compound I do not have the same responsibilities as other girls who live with their families or husbands. Here I am responsible for myself. It is difficult for girls though. Boys have more freedom and girls are the ones responsible for everything. Boys expect everything from you. I would like that girls have equal chance at education.” 

The VAD Foundation’s key message is that investing in girls prevents diseases, decreases poverty, and lessens violence. When a woman prospers, her family and community prosper – everybody wins.

You can read more about the VAD Foundation and MBSS on the Girl’s Globe website.

Flickr photo via Stein Ove Korneliussen

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