PESS is Doubling Down on Girls’ Education
PESS believes that developing educated young leaders is the only sustainable way to end the cycle of violence this young country is experiencing; in particular, PESS is convinced that girl education is the most effective path to positive change in South Sudan.** PESS has always emphasized the inclusion of girls and women in the educational opportunities it promotes. This led, for example, to the early provision by PESS of grinding mills for the villages where it built schools, thereby freeing the girls – who traditionally do the task of grain grinding – to go to school.
During this current period of turmoil in South Sudan, the public school system has become unreliable: teachers are not being paid and school buildings have been destroyed. In this environment, PESS believes that girl scholar support in one of the existing functional private schools is the most direct way to implement its belief in girl education. Thus, PESS selects committed girls for scholarship assistance in private secondary schools, primarily in the Jonglei area of rural South Sudan. These girls are orphans or have unemployed parents due to the dysfunctional economy. PESS offers not only scholarships, but real mentoring to its girls, including after-school tutoring and Saturday girl meetings to develop global awareness and peer support. PESS now supports 60 girl scholars and is particularly proud of its new girl graduates, who have shown amazing courage and resilience in completing their secondary education despite conflict and cultural obstacles. Many South Sudanese families eagerly crave the scholarship opportunity PESS provides to their daughters. Daniel’s waiting list has over 100 names, and only funding limits prevents PESS from sending more girls to school. As PESS enrolls its girl scholars in local schools, it provides an example for other families to educate their girls in a region where girl education has been culturally disfavored; many more families are now sending their daughters to the schools where the PESS girl scholars are enrolled.
As its focus has evolved to girls’ secondary education, PESS has partnered with She’s The First, an acclaimed national non-profit that sponsors girls’ education in the developing world, helping them be the first in their families to graduate. PESS is the only She’s The First partner working in South Sudan and we are proud to be among the vetted non-profits selected by She’s The First to deliver educational support for girls in the developing world. PESS recently sponsored two of our girl scholar graduates to attend the She’s The First regional conference in Nairobi – a huge step in developing the leadership capacity of these young women.
PESS Is Developing New Leaders from Rural South Sudanese Communities
Developing educated empowered South Sudanese leaders is crucial to ending the cycle of violence South Sudan is experiencing. That is why PESS enriches its girl scholarship support with a global awareness program. Its girl scholars meet together on some Saturdays in the PESS Bor office to establish a peer support structure and to learn and write about their place in a global world. The writing topics, which are supplied by She’s The First, have included gender inequality and the meaning of beauty. The PESS Bor office is a hub of excitement for the girls; not only do they work on their global topic, but they meet Abuk and Anna, recent secondary school graduates, who are Daniel’s paid assistants. Here also, the girls may have a chance to use a computer, a nearly unheard of experience for young people in the Jonglei area. This current focus on girl leadership is not new for PESS. In 2012, PESS brought its self-developed Girls’ Leadership Development Program, including training in student government, athletics and health education, to girls at the schools PESS had previously built.
Indigenous leadership programs have always been an important element of PESS’s work. For example, over the years, PESS has led numerous customized teacher-training modules for teachers at the schools it has built, and included other local teachers. These trainings presented techniques to address large class sizes and the use of everyday objects to enhance the limited resources at the schools. Income literacy to train adults in basic numerical skills is another program that PESS has carried out in the villages. PESS is especially proud that for three months in 2015, Daniel and Emmy-award winning journalist Tamara Banks implemented a PESS developed education program to address HIV and AIDS. Daniel and Tamara presented frank reproductive health and feminine hygiene education to over 80 student leaders at three schools and one community in Jonglei. As part of this program, PESS taught the students and adults with a “train the trainers” model. The young people and adults not only learned lifesaving information about HIV/AIDS prevention, feminine health and the reproductive system, they now have the tools to teach others in their communities.
These leadership programs exemplify the approach of PESS to real change in South Sudan – indigenous community leaders must themselves be developed and empowered to address the needs of their people. One-time donations of material objects from foreigners can never result in lasting change in South Sudan, if the Sudanese themselves are not empowered to control their future.
PESS Continues to Support Community Infrastructure Necessary for Education
As our long-time supporters know, beginning in 2005, PESS oversaw and funded the construction of new schools in three rural Jonglei villages. PESS also funded the re-building of a large existing structure in one of these villages, which had deteriorated beyond use. Prior to the 2013 inter-tribal conflict in Jonglei, these schools served over 3,000 students.
In constructing schools and doing repairs, PESS lived by its belief that partnership with the community is the basis of educational sustainability. All building projects were the result of collaborative decision making between PESS and local leaders and stake-holders. All completed structures belong to the community, which provided the needed land and unskilled labor. More skill intensive construction was performed by indigenous South Sudanese contractors and workers funded by PESS and its partners.
When intertribal conflict erupted in 2013, Jonglei was particularly hard hit for several months. As a result, the region experienced widespread physical destruction, as well as tremendous population dislocation; residents who stayed in Jonglei, or returned in the relative peace that followed, have experienced severe insecurity, hunger and economic hardship. Very fortunately, the school buildings PESS built were not destroyed in the fighting. Now, as relative peace has returned to areas of Jonglei schools PESS built have resumed operating. One school, the girls’ boarding school located in an outlying village, is still closed because the area remains insecure.
When it built these rural schools, PESS donated water wells, commercial grinding mills, cinderblock-making equipment and school supply money to the villages where the schools are located. This development was done with a view to promoting school attendance, particularly by girls who perform most household chores. Since the 2013 fighting, the water wells PESS provided continue to serve thousands of people. And, PESS has continued to assist its school communities by providing repairs to wells and roofs. PESS also recently built a new well in Bor, where many of its secondary school scholars now attend school; the well also serves the surrounding community.
**The positive results of girl education in South Sudan and other developing countries is detailed in a 2016 Applied Anthropologist article by Board Members Ray Strankse, Melody Delaney and Andrew Appell, Project Education South Sudan: Challenges and Accomplishments in Female Education in South Sudan.