I arrived in Mayan Abun, South Sudan, on Sunday afternoon. It’s the home of a new school called the Ajong Primary School serving students in grades 1-8. It’s the school many Rochesterians have likely heard about in recent months; it’s the vision of former “lost boy” Sebastian Maroundit of the Rochester-based non-profit, Building Minds in Sudan. After we settled into our compound on Sunday we were invited to join a forum already in progress in the village. Leaders of the community were having a public discussion on education in South Sudan, specifically in Mayan Abun. Talk about the perfect start to my reporting project in South Sudan!
About 100 residents, youth and adults, were gathered in a small compound to listen to the discussion. Leader after leader stood before the crowd urging parents to get their kids to school. South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, and government officials in the new nation say that by 2020, all students throughout the country will be required to attend school, including young women. School buildings throughout South Sudan were targeted and destroyed during years of war between the north and south leaving students without schools, teachers and resources. Prior to a 2005 peace agreement, young women were prevented from going to school, predominantly for cultural reasons. But that’s all changed since independence in 2011. Plans to build schools for girls in towns and villages throughout South Sudan are becoming a priority. While the Ajong Primary School serves boys and girls, Sebastian Maroundit says a priority there has also been placed on young women. More than 200 of the nearly 800 students are young women – that’s compared to nearly 90 girls who attended the “under-tree” schools at the current school site in 2011.
Leaders at the community forum also asked parents in attendance to work together to teach their children about the importance of an education and staying in school. They also asked parents to become more involved in their kids’ education. They said the development of South Sudan is dependent on three things: education, health care, and public service. But, they added the latter two won’t be possible unless more young people go to school, graduate from high school and pursue college.
The discussion in the village drew a number of parallels between South Sudan and the United States. I’ve talked with school leaders and educators in Rochester that shared similar frustrations. Numerous studies find low attendance rates, high dropout rates and a lack of parental involvement are the norm in a number of inner-city districts in the U.S. It turns out those are similar issues schools in South Sudan are tackling, but for different reasons - some cultural, others historical. This week, students from Mayan Abun will get to talk with their peers in the Rochester City School District at School 36 via Skype and learn more about the similarities and differences in education and life half-way around the world.
This is part of WXXI’s reporting and civic engagement initiative around Schools for South Sudan, which explores issues related to education, diversity and racism locally and around the world. Schools for South Sudan is supported in part by The Community Foundation. Follow Hélène's reporting trip on Twitter: @HeleneWXXI and #SouthSudanEd