Girls get back on track in South Sudan

In South Sudan only 30 per cent of girls enrol in secondary school, and more teenagers die in childbirth than complete their education. Nyanrror Teresa Marial reports on a second-chance project transforming their prospects.

 this is Nyanrror Teresa Marial
Nyanrror Teresa Marial. Photo via Africa Educational Trust

‘Where I live in Rumbek, the Lakes region of South Sudan, girls face many barriers to education. Poverty stops some parents from being able to pay school fees, and there is also a heavy domestic load on girls, which eats into their time. Some parents, through ignorance, just don’t want to educate their girls.

Another problem is that girls can be married off early, very young or by force. We don’t have the right to choose the partner we wish to marry – our parents give us to the one who pays the highest dowry in cows. Now there is more hunger, people are desperate and marrying off girls to get cattle to survive.

Girls can become pregnant unexpectedly. This happened to me when I was studying, and I had to leave school to raise my daughter, who is now three.

My brother-in-law brought me to a learning centre for girls who have dropped out of school – Accelerated Secondary Education for Women (ASEW), run by the Africa Educational Trust. ASEW wants to help girls finish school, rather than be married off for cows and goats.

When I came to the ASEW learning centre, I saw that the headteacher was a woman – and that inspired me. ASEW was a school without punishment, school fees, and with free scholastic materials. It was a day school – not boarding school – that gave me time to help at home, caring for my daughter and my mother. There was a crèche, and the curriculum was speeded up so we could complete our education more quickly. It was also safe, protected from outsiders – it is extremely dangerous for women and girls as there is conflict all around Rumbek, since war began in 2013. We often hear gunfire and there are many cattle raids.

The majority of the parents don’t allow their girls to go to school. Yet ASEW got the highest scores in our region, the Lake State, and the ninth highest position in the country. I studied hard and passed with a top score of 77 per cent. I want to attend university, study accountancy and get a stable job. Once I have a job, I will think about getting married. Men prefer educated girls these days, women who can speak for themselves.

My daughter will start kindergarten next year. I wish that other girls could have opportunities like mine, to go back to school and become responsible mothers and leaders.’