GIRLS receiving an education in South Sudan with the help of UK aid spoke via film in Parliament last week, highlighting their aspirations to build careers and transform the world’s youngest country.
The film, Girls’ Education South Sudan — Inspire. Educate. Transform, showcases the achievements of Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS), a five-year £60-million programme owned by the government of South Sudan and funded by UK aid. Launched in 2013, the year in which conflict erupted in the country, it has so far given 3500 schools more than 9000 grants, and made more than 300,000 bank transfers to 180,000 girls.
Another facet of the programme, which seeks to bring about a “sea change in attitudes towards education”, is a series of radio programmes, which have reached about two million people, with messages designed to prompt communities to embrace and own education. GESS has managed to retain teachers, even when the authorities failed to pay salaries, because the schools are embedded within communities, who can help to meet their needs.
Two-thirds of South Sudan’s school-age children are not in school, and the adult literacy rate is just 27 per cent. Girls experience additional obstacles, including pressure to marry. A GESS team leader, Akuja Mading de Garang, describes in the film how an estimated 30,000 girls were “missing” from the programme, owing to displacement, but were being traced, “even in refugee camps”.
Many of GESS’s partners are churches or Christian organisations, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Food for the Hungry, Episcopal Church of South Sudan & Sudan, and Caritas.
A study of GESS by the Center for Global Development and the University of Sussex concluded that grants and cash transfers made schools more likely to remain open, increase their enrolment numbers, and increase the attendance rate.