Today is a special day for many of the people of South Sudan. It’s the anniversary of the signing of the 2005 peace agreement between the north and the south. The agreement paved the way for South Sudan’s independence in July 2011 and opened the doors to an education for the young people of the nation.
Today is particularly special for a young woman I interviewed this afternoon, Angelina Mading, 18, of Mayan Abun. She’s the oldest of 7 and she’s the first in her family to go to school. Had it not been for this peace agreement, Mading explains to me, her dreams today of becoming a doctor would have been non-existent.
Prior to January 2005, young women in Sudan were banned from going to school. At the signing of the peace agreement, former President of South Sudan, the late John Garang, told the nation that for far too long women had been marginalized. But, he added, that would soon change. And change is now here. Angelina Mading is in the 7th grade at the Ajong Primary School in Mayan Abun. While she understands young women her age in the United States would be graduating from high school at this time, she’s determined to stay focused, finish school, go to college and become a doctor. She said 8 years ago, this dream was impossible to conceive. After school she serves as a teacher for her younger brothers and sisters at home and she calls herself a “role model” for other young women in Mayan Abun.
After my interview with Angelina I sat in on a geography class being taught by Bonnie Lloyd of Rochester’s Building Minds in Sudan. She told the students all about their peers half-way around the world in Rochester, New York. The students cheered when they learned that other young people their age, from schools throughout the Rochester-area, are learning about them and raising funds to ensure they have the resources needed to get a proper education. While the Ajong Primary School now has 4 classrooms, 4 more are in the planning stages when funds are raised so all students can be served within the school building as opposed to learning underneath trees – these are called “under tree schools.” Currently, more than 500 out of nearly 800 students are being taught at “under tree schools,” including Angelina Mading. Their pencils are their fingers and their paper is the dirt on the ground. I learned many walk 2 hours, some even barefoot, just to get to school every day. But Mading later explained to me it’s a small sacrifice in order to learn.
On Friday I’ll share more about my interview with Angelina Mading during Morning Edition with Beth Adams. As Rochester prepares for the opening of the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit, I’ll also discuss the role of race here in South Sudan and it’s impact on education.
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