South Sudan Minister Asks for Help to Bring Education to Girls

Families in South Sudan ask a lot of their daughters. Girls as young as 6 or 7 fully participate in running of the household along with their mothers, doing everyday chores, cooking, cleaning and fetching water. What gets lost among all these responsibilities is education, and now local government officials such as Bridget Nagomoro are working to increase the number of girls who regularly attend school, and are asking local tribal leaders and families to help with that mission.

The issue of female education is close to Nagomoro’s heart because once upon a time she was one of those girls for whom schooling took a distant second place to helping around the house. As she explains to the Guardian, her day consisted of getting up at 5 in the morning to fetch water and cook breakfast, all before she hiked 5 miles every day to her local school.

The end of the day was no easier. There were chores to be done and dinner to be brought to the table in addition to the homework. Still, despite all the challenges, Nagomoro was first girl from her Ibba community to graduate from primary school. Now she is working to make sure she is just one of many.

“Some of the boys used to threaten me because I got better results than them,” said Nagomoro last week during a visit to Britain. Now a local government commissioner in Ibba county, she wants to make it easier for girls to get an education by setting up a boarding school for girls aged 10 and above – the point at which most drop out because of the competing pressures from family, household chores, childcare and early pregnancy.

Nagomoro has donated a large plot of land for the school and enlisted the support of local chiefs and elders. She has sought assistance from contacts in the UK, including Professor John Benington of Warwick University Business School, whom she met when he held workshops in South Sudan.

Nagomoro is asking for help in her mission from all over the world. Earlier this month, together with Pia Phillip Michael, the state minister of education for Western Equatoria, she visited the UK to meet with supporters and tell them about the progress that has been made and the progress yet to be made. Meanwhile, her local supports are raising money via a charity called Friends of Ibba Girls School.

In order to bring schooling to girls in South Sudan – a country that only became independent in 2011 – some major systematic challenges must be overcome. Currently, South Sudanese girls are less likely than their male peers to either begin or finish their schooling. As a matter of fact, they’re three times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than they are to complete primary schooling.

Another challenge is the lack of facilities. “80% of our schools are under trees and it rains nine months of the year,” said Pia. This poses problems for protecting textbooks, provided for primary schools by Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) for the first time this year. Part of DfID’s aid programme is to support 2 million children in primary education by providing textbooks, building classrooms and offering education to children who drop out or start school late. Support for education is one thing, changing attitudes towards girls’ education another.