Since 2005, PESS has overseen and, along with its United States donors, funded the construction of new schools in three rural Jonglei villages. PESS also funded the rebuilding of a large existing structure in one of these villages, which had deteriorated beyond use. Prior to the recent inter-tribal conflict in Jonglei, these schools served over 3000 students. Three of the schools have reopened as relative peace returns to Jonglei. Daniel and the headmaster are actively working to reopen the fourth school – a girls’ boarding school located in a village particularly hard hit by the violence and insecurity. PESS is determined that Ayak Anguei Primary Boarding School will be educating girls again soon.
In constructing these schools, 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 stakeholders. 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. PESS adopted the UNICEF accountability model in funding, inspection and verification of spending for the schools.
With a view to promoting school attendance and to fostering economic development, PESS has donated water wells, commercial grinding mills, cinderblock-making equipment, sewing machines and annual school supply money to the villages where the schools are located.
In partnership with the non-profit Ears to Our World, PESS has transported and distributed radios to teachers to allow them access to world news in their mostly “Internet-free” environments.
Beyond bricks and mortar, PESS develops indigenous community and girls’ leadership. 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 include 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. In 2012, PESS brought its self- developed Girls’ Leadership Development Program to girls at the schools PESS has built, including training in student government, athletics and health education.
Our most recent leadership programs took place over three months in 2015: Daniel and Emmy-award winning journalist Tamara Banks implemented a PESS-developed education program to address HIV and AIDS. These illnesses are coming to Jonglei with the returning refugees who fled to neighboring countries during the months of recent conflict. 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 “trainer the trainers” model. The young people and adults not only learned the 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 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 seeks to provide the South Sudanese with skills that they have had difficulty developing internally because of decades of war and barest physical survival. Daniel – a former refugee who returned from the South Sudanese diaspora after years of work and education in the United States – is perfectly situated to spark this empowerment.
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.
Last spring, in addition to education about reproductive health, Daniel and Tamara engaged girls in a Menstrual Management Pad Production Program. Due to the scarcity and expense of sanitary pads, many girls skip school during their menstrual periods – a huge impediment to their learning. PESS taught girls to make their own sanitary pads and other clothing, and donated six sewing machines so the girls could continue on their own.
PESS partners with She’s The First, an acclaimed national non-profit, for girl secondary school sponsorships. She’s the First sponsors girls’ education in the developing world, helping them be the first in their families to graduate. In the process, She’s the First fosters leadership and global awareness in young female Americans, by inspiring them to lead creative fundraisers and correspond with sponsored students. Working with “She’s The First”, PESS has matched 12 promising Jonglei girls with scholarship money and mentored them in their return to school following the 2013-2014 violence, which closed or destroyed most educational facilities in Jonglei. She’s The First has chosen PESS to select and mentor an additional 25 girls for secondary education. Due to traditions in South Sudan of early marriage and the allocation of domestic work to women, the rate of secondary school completion for rural girls is dismal; PESS is especially proud of the achievements of its sponsored girls, some of whom are graduating and on their way to becoming the new leaders of their young country.