Prospects for peace in South Sudan appear to be improving, thanks in part to a change of leadership in neighbouring Sudan after months of protests. The shifting power dynamics in Khartoum are likely to force greater engagement by ousted former Vice-President and so-called rebel leader Dr Riek Machar in the peace process to which he signed up in 2018 and which is due to be implemented in November. The power balance is very fragile and could easily be undermined as competing factions compete for influence and control, but there is a renewed sense of optimism and national pride, and the increased movement of people and vehicles at night in Juba suggests greater calm. The road from Juba through Mundri and Maridi to Ibba and on to Yambio is open, and although its state of disrepair restricts the movement of more than a few traders and trucks, it does mean that prices are likely to stabilise as more goods become available.
Ibba Girls’ Boarding School remains an oasis of calm, with a friendly, relaxed and happy atmosphere. When I visited, three year groups were in the middle of exams. In the late afternoon and over the weekend, groups of students were revising in small groups around the compound, punctuated by games of volleyball and the usual round of laundry and compound maintenance. The atmosphere in the staff room is also positive; the new teachers have settled in well and are working collaboratively under the leadership of Vicky Dratia and her senior leadership team.
Having topped the league tables in 2018, the school is also the first in the country to boast copies of the new South Sudanese secondary curriculum textbooks. Each textbook cost £8.55 to print, and we would welcome donations to cover this cost.
While FIGS continues to look for funding to build the secondary classrooms required, students and teachers are making do with the existing facilities, and the multi-purpose hall is certainly living up to its name, serving as a classroom as well as dining hall, assembly hall, place of worship, debating chamber, examination venue and cinema.
It was a privilege to be invited to participate in the meeting of the Board of Governors during my stay, and wonderful that thanks to the improvements in security, governors based in Yambio – 65 miles or 3 bumpy hours to the west of Ibba – were also able to attend. Relationships with the community and state authorities (including Honorable Richard the new county Commissioner) are warm and positive, and it is clear that the school is well supported and protected by the local community.
Ibba Girls’ Boarding School continues to be a remarkable place, providing quality teaching and learning in a safe environment in a way that few would think possible in such a challenging context. The stories which the girls tell of their ambitions for the future, of their determination to succeed, of the way they pass on their new knowledge to siblings, parents and the wider community, and even of their persistence just in reaching the school during the rainy season, are a moving testament to the power of one small and specific but tangibly life-changing intervention to inspire a nation so badly in need.
Mark Simmons, FIGS CEO, 17th September 2019