By Rudina Vojvoda
NEW YORK, USA, 6 July 2011 – At the end of this week, Southern Sudan will become an independent nation. Citizens of the newest country in the world, the people of Southern Sudan face immense challenges and immediate threats.
They also stand before a unique opportunity to build a country that is free of war, respectful of human rights and prosperous. Education will play a pivotal role in the future stability and economic development of Southern Sudan.
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To discuss the challenges of providing quality education in Southern Sudan, UNICEF Radio podcast moderator Amy Costello recently spoke with Yasmin Haque, UNICEF Director in Southern Sudan, and Carol Francis-Rinehart, Executive Director and President of Project Educate Sudan, a grassroots organization that works with community leaders and village elders to provide education there.
During the podcast discussion, they noted that more than 100,000 Sudanese civilians have been displaced due to recent clashes over the contested border district of Abyei. About half of them are children who are being exposed to hunger, violence and disease. They are often separated from their parents and out of school due to the conflict.
According Ms. Haque, humanitarian organizations have been able to offer their assistance despite the clashes.
“Fortunately, the violence has not impacted the relief efforts that badly, because most of the population has moved out from the area that is really affected by the violence in Abyei,” she said.
Girls out of school
Southern Sudan ranks second to last when it comes to primary school enrolment, with almost 1.3 million children of primary school age out of school.
For the girls, the situation is even worse. Only around 8 per cent of women in Southern Sudan are literate, giving it one of the lowest female literacy rates in the world.
But despite these figures, the last five years have seen remarkable progress. More schools have been reconstructed, more teachers have been trained and the number of girls enrolled and attending school has increased.
Enrolment on the rise
Sharing her experience in the rural areas of Southern Sudan, Ms. Francis-Rinehart said it has taken Project Educate Sudan about three years to build partnerships with rural communities. But the results are evident.
“When we first began, there were hardly any girls in the classroom, maybe two or three,” she said. “But now, in a classroom of 60, [there] would be 27 to, sometimes, half” of the class composed of girl students.
Ms. Haque confirmed that school enrolment has improved significantly in the last five years and expressed optimism about working with the formal institutions in Southern Sudan.
“The teacher-parent associations are getting stronger,” she said. “We really need to create community awareness.”