John Benington and Jean Hartley, two Trustees of Friends of Ibba Girls School (FIGS), have managed to visit Ibba again this February, after 12 months of instability and insecurity which made travel too risky last year. John and Jean brought with them a consignment of textbooks, dictionaries, a Xerox printer, laptop computers, first aid equipment, and other items (all donated by FIGS supporters from around the world).
They were greeted on arrival at the school with singing, dancing and spontaneous applause when the books and equipment were handed over. They are still in South Sudan, partnering with school governors, staff and students to help get facilities and routines up and running for this term. Scroll down to read their day-by-day diary updates from Ibba.
Although we have visited Ibba many times over the past 7 years, Jean and I always feel anxious on the day we leave the UK.
This is our first trip for 12 months, because the conflicts which sadly engulfed South Sudan again last year meant that we had to postpone two planned visits to the school last June and November.
Things have now settled down well enough for us to feel safe to travel to join IGBS at the start of its 3rd year, now with 120 girl students.
The 50 year struggle to gain independence from North Sudan, and the continued political and economic pressures on South Sudan (the youngest country in the world) have taken a terrible toll, and mean that many basic supplies simply cannot be obtained in-country.
So this time we are taking 10 large boxes of textbooks, dictionaries, first aid equipment, Xerox printer, spare computers, blackboard chalk etc (all donated by generous FIGS supporters across the world) to support the courageous staff and students with the tools necessary to do a good job of teaching and learning.
Julia and Paul Sanders (FIGS volunteer teachers who mobilised the funding and printing of the textbooks, and Xerox’s donation of the printer) kindly offered to drive us to Heathrow with our 10 boxes, in their pan-technicon.
Kenya Airways check-in staff know us and IGBS well from our previous trips and always give us a generous baggage allowance as a small charity. This time we have 250kg in total, so we still had to pay a hefty excess baggage charge. However their staff are as proud as we are of the progress made by the school, and they made sure the 10 boxes got checked in smoothly.
The one thing we had not bargained for was John being stopped and searched by airport security because traces of explosives had been found in the wash bag in his hand luggage. Jean was not best pleased when this meant he missed the final boarding call and only just made the overnight flight. An explosive start to the trip!
Wednesday 10 February: Near Lake Victoria
We arrive in Nairobi at dawn and immediately transfer to Kenya Airways morning flight to Entebbe, where we are met at the airport as usual by the lovely staff who run the little Airport Guest House, just beyond Lake Victoria.
We have a quick shower and a cup of tea in their beautiful tropical garden, before setting off to visit Rubaga Girls School on the outskirts of Kampala. It is always good to share and compare experience with other African schools. Ibba is much younger and smaller than Rubaga but we have a much more attractive green campus !
Back for supper in the AGH garden before turning in for the night.
Thursday 11 February: Touch down in Ibba at last
We enjoy our last hot shower for some days to come, and an early breakfast, before setting off in the AGH taxi to the Mission Aviation Fellowship’s airstrip at Kajjansia. As the sun rises over Lake Victoria we smell the wonder of an East African dawn.
Checking in our 10 (pre-booked) boxes of school supplies into MAF’s tiny 10 seater Cessna is very different from Kenya Airways 748. Everyone and everything is carefully weighed on MAF’s scales, so that the plane keeps balance. We and all our stuff weigh-in at just below the 250kg we have pre-booked. This is fortunate as John proves to be the single heaviest item on board, and might have had to be jettisoned !
After a brief touch down at Arua in north Uganda and then in Maridi in South Sudan, we eventually we land around 1pm at Ibba’s simple mud airstrip. This has no facilities of any kind but the warmest welcome in the world.
We are met by Nagomoro Bridget (chair of the Board of Governors), Richard Aluma (Headteacher) and many old friends from Ibba. We thank Matt the pilot for MAF’s continued support in flying us and supplies into Ibba over the past 7 years (we were the first people ever to use the Ibba airstrip) and then set off in two 4x4 vehicles on the 10 minute drive to the school.
A singing dancing welcome
We turn into the school gates and drive down the mud path which leads through beautiful equatorial trees and bushes to the school, through two long lines of students and staff all singing and dancing their wonderful rhythmical welcome to us “ Jean and John we’ve been waiting for you for a long, long time”.
We are proud to find that the whole staff team (class-teachers, dormitory matrons, school nurse, cooks, cleaners, security staff ) and nearly 100 of the 120 students have been able to return to the school after the Christmas vacation, and are already hard at work.
Some of them have travelled with a parent or brother for over 3 days to get here by motor bike, on dangerous, dusty roads. This amazing commitment to schooling, and thirst for learning, is infectious and a reminder of why we are doing all this.
There is a spontaneous burst of applause when we hand over the text books, dictionaries, laptop computers, printer, first aid equipment which have been donated by generous Friends of Ibba Girls School and supporters from all over the world.
It is a major achievement for the school to be “up and running” in spite of the many insecurities which have troubled South Sudan, and the rampant inflation which has impoverished families and communities, over the past year.
We join the school for a simple lunch of rice and beans (one of the things which students and staff appreciate about being at IGBS is 3 good meals a day, instead of feeling hungry).
We eat together in small groups on the verandah, because we have not yet been able to raise the funding for a dining/assembly hall.
Meeting new and returning staff
We are introduced formally to all the new and returning staff (see our website for some of their amazing stories and photos)
- Headteacher, Richard Aluma
- Director of Studies, Vicky Dratia
- Finance manager, Sonaa Santino
- 3 class teachers, Yoane, Agnes, and Fabiano
- 3 new matrons, Olivia, Ludia and Regina
- School nurse, Jovia
- School assistant, Simon Mbasi
- Cooks, Foiza, Cecilia, Margaret, Eunice
- Cleaners, Salwa, Elizabeth, Loice
- Ground-staff Keffa, Juma, Simon,
- Security guards, Yepeta, Thomas, Oliver, Michael
Progress with the buildings – but no 3rd dormitory yet
Later in the afternoon we walk round the campus to review progress with the building programme. Much has been achieved over the past year –
- the lovely thatched roofed kitchen has been doubled in size good quality staff and guest accommodation has been designed and completed work has started on Dormitory 3. Sadly the insecurities on the roads between Kampala, Yambio and Ibba have delayed transport of many building materials so the dormitory is not complete in time for the new ten year old students who have started in Primary 4.
They have therefore been squeezed into Dormitory 2 with the previous year’s P4 students. It is very tight, but they all seem to enjoy it – and are often heard singing together!
This is the first in a series of blog posts by our Chair of Trustees, John Benington, from Ibba Girls Boarding School. You can read the next instalment of John’s Ibba blog here.