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Back to school for girls in rural South Sudan?

Joseph Nashion
Among the victims of the violent conflict are South Sudan’s already weak public services, including education – a right many girls are deprived of.
15.06.2016  |  Kampala, Uganda
A girl in Yambio prepares food, June 2016.  (photo: The Niles | Joseph Nashion)
A girl in Yambio prepares food, June 2016. (photo: The Niles | Joseph Nashion)

(Compiled from a WhatsApp group chat)

South Sudan has one of the world’s highest illiteracy rates and girls often do not go to school. In a society when many girls are married underage, public opinion is split on whether the nation’s daughters should be educated.

In a group chat on social media The Niles’ Joseph Nashion asked if it was necessary to educate the ‘village girl’ or if it is a waste, as some cultures and traditions mean girls drop out from school.

Organisations operating to underscore girls’ right to education, point out that it is every girls’ right. But many parents say educating girls is a waste of resources as girls are often raped and impregnated by soldiers and other men, meaning they have to leave school before they are finished.

Taking part in the WhatsApp chat group called Buda Mbiro (Palm Wine), 73 young people from South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State, who now live across the globe, said village girls should be educated.

Our girls in the villages are very obedient.

Andy Kanga Paite from Western Equatoria State currently lives in Australia and he argued that education was essential for girls but said that when parents don’t really understand the importance of schooling, they are likely to become a barrier to the children.

“Our girls in the villages are very obedient and do whatever their parents ask. It is up to the government and the community to enable the girls to get their education,” he said.

Isaac Abishai, a group member from Juba, said girls need to be motivated by positive examples and success stories. “These stories go a long way towards touching them,” he said, adding that speakers bombard the girls with facts, without telling them about real-life examples.

“I plan to form a local organisation and this will mainly be to empower young girls through sensitisation,” he added. “Before educating the village girl there is need to talk to the parents because most parents do not see the bigger picture”.

John Gaka, another Buda Mbiro member who lives in Yei, joined the chat and said it was essential to mobilise communities to shift norms that perpetrate child marriage.

Jovana Patience, a girl from Western Equatoria State who moved to Australia, thinks it is hard for girls to stay in school without being impregnated or married off. Having lived in the diaspora for many years, she has seen different ways of bringing up girls.

Patience says girls need to be given a chance to grow and learn rather than being left with a baby and a house to care for at a young age.

Ceaser Muhengayo, based in Kampala, said that local authorities including the local chief should impose tough rules on parents and the girls, arguing that many people are motivated by money and therefore sell off their young girls.

Poverty is another reason girls in rural South Sudan have been kept out of school, he said. Many girls lack school uniforms, books, school fees and other vitals.

Jovana Patience said parents need to understand education is vital to prepare girls for the future while village girls need to learn their rights and their self worth.

I don’t necessarily think every girl should go to university.

“I don’t necessarily think every girl should go to university but they still need time to explore who they are, their talents and what they want from life,” she said.

Sarafina Gabriel, a South Sudanese girl studying in Uganda’s capital Kampala, said she would love to encourage every parent to enable girls to be self-reliant. When she finishes her owns studies, she added, she will be in a position to contribute to her own family, friends and community.

Sarafina advised all the girls to stay at school for as long as possible as it helps them remain independent.

Meanwhile Emmanuelle Gabriel a South Sudanese student at St. Andrea in Hoima, Uganda thinks once the village girl is educated she learns of the dangers of early marriage and early pregnancy. This should teach them a lesson in why to wait before settling down, she said.

She said village girls going to school can become positive role models to other young girls. “If I finish my school I would love to talk to fellow girls and listen to their challenges and see how best they can work together for their future,” said Emmanuelle.

Speaking after the WhatsApp conversation, Jackline John Lollis, UNHCR Yambio Child Protection Officer, agreed that parents were key in helping girls study. “We need to educate the parents who are mostly illiterate […]. We should tell them if they want their daughter to support them in the future, she needs to be educated.”

Girls need to know the value of education.

She said state authorities were also responsible for the trend of girls missing out on school: “As of now, the government needs to provide free education to all girls,” she said, adding that a lack of sanitary facilities also forces girls to drop out from school.

“Girls need to know the value of education. When you educate a girl, you have educated the nation. When you educate a boy, you have educated an individual. Girls believe in sharing the good things they get in life.”

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