After decades of civil war and unrest, South Sudan is second-to-bottom in world ranking tables for net enrolment in primary school. This means that more than 1.3 million primary-aged children do not attend school. The situation is particularly grim for girls, many of whom are expected to stay at home and be married off young. But as reported in a recent article, attitudes towards girls are changing.
The Sudanese government wants to encourage more children, and especially girls, to stay on at school. And local initiatives are springing up to support this development. One such initiative is a UK-backed project in the state of Western Equatoria. Here, a residential school is being built at Ibba. The school aims to provide education for girls aged 10–18.
Land for the school has been donated by Bridget Nagomoro, who gave up a job in government to return to Ibba county as the local Government Commissioner, so she could oversee the development of the school. Bridget was the first girl in the whole of Western Equatoria (where around 90,000 people reside) to complete her primary school education.
On a recent trip to the UK, Bridget spoke to the Guardian about staying on at school and explained that this entailed getting up at five in the morning to collect water from the stream before cooking breakfast, walking five miles to school and eating late in the evening when her homework and household chores were done. Such an exhausting routine is not uncommon for girls in South Sudan, which is why Bridget wants girls at her school to be able to board. This will remove them from the pressures of family life, jobs at home, childcare and early marriage.
According to a UNESCO report, girls in South Sudan are three times likelier to die in pregnancy or childbirth than to finish primary school. This reflects the high drop-out rates of girls to marry young. With so few continuing into secondary education, only 12% of teachers in South Sudan are women.
With the help of British supporters and money donated to the Friends of Ibba Girls School charity, Bridget aims to give more girls the chance to gain a full education, so they can become teachers, doctors, lawyers or whatever they want to be. As the movement towards improving girls’ education gains ground in Western Equatoria, campaigners are calling on leaders in every village, ‘Don’t leave girls behind’.