John’s Blog #2


This is the second in a series of blog posts by our Chair of Trustees, John Benington, from Ibba Girls Boarding School. You can read the first instalment of John’s Ibba blog here.

Bore hole, bucket and bed  

After supper the students often have prep to do, or a football competition between the 3 houses (Elephant, Tiger, Zebra), or they watch a film, or they sing in harmony together.  

The staff eat the same food as the students, but mostly a bit later, crowded into the staff room, because of the lack of dining space.  We prise them away from their desks, computers and lesson preparation, to come and eat and talk together round the makeshift dining table. 

Over the next few days we get to hear more about their own long hard journeys to get education, and their desire to study and gain more qualifications.    

All our teaching staff live in staff accommodation on site, and we have been allocated one of these units while we stay at IGBS. We have simple wooden beds (locally made from local wood) and we sleep under treated mosquito nets.

We have installed solar electricity and solar powered water pumps at IGBS, and had been looking forward to a cold shower before bed (it is 39 degrees here just now, tho sometimes quite cold in the middle of the night !) .

Unfortunately our solar water and electricity seem unable to cope with the rising number of students and staff now at the school, so we wash in the dark using a bucket of water from the bore hole.

We need to review and repair our solar systems – but that will have to wait till morning, as we are ready to crash out, tired but happy, excited and proud to be back in Ibba.     

Friday 12 February : Gramsci and the new governor

After a cup of black tea (no cows in Ibba, and goats milk curdles in the heat) we join the whole school at 7.45am for their morning assembly – notices from Richard, Vicky and the elected prefects, prayers led by the Head teacher and some of the girls, and the national anthem.

Jean gets ready to start the annual review of the school with Vicky (our Director of Studies). Over the next week they will jointly be sitting in on classes, observing teaching, visiting dormitories, interviewing all teaching and support staff, and a sample of students, parents, governors, and other stakeholders, The aim is to identify areas of progress, and areas needing improvement, for reporting back to all staff, students and governors.     

Bridget takes John and Richard to meet the new Commissioner for Ibba County and the new Governor of Maridi State. The Government of South Sudan has recently announced the replacement of the existing 10 states by 28 states. It is not clear yet how sustainable these controversial proposals will be, given the Vice President’s opposition, but new people are already being appointed to some of the posts.

Nagomoro Bridget had been promoted to Minister of Health for Western Equatoria State, but is now in limbo, along with many others, waiting to see what job she gets if the new structure of 28 states goes ahead.

She introduces us to her successor as Commissioner for Ibba County, Tito Gerusama, and then we drive to Maridi (only about 40km from Ibba, but an hour and a half by 4x4 on the pot-holed mud roads) to meet the new Governor designate of Maridi State, Africano Monday.   

Governor Monday is a senior officer man from the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) but he is also a highly educated man taking a PhD in military strategy and implementation.

So we talk first about Gramsci and Keynes, and Gordon Brown’s argument for massive public investment in education in South Sudan as part of a plan to restore peace and reconstruct the country after 50 years of war – like the Marshall plan which helped to rebuild Britain and Germany after World War 2.

Then he assures us of his commitment to girls education and Ibba Girls School, and his determination to develop Maridi and Ibba as centres of schooling and learning and of social and economic development – based upon agriculture rather than oil. He later sends a film crew to IGBS to help publicise these claims more widely.

We agree with Gramsci on the need in South Sudan to “combine pessimism of the intellect with optimism of the will”

Saturday 13 February: Turning store room into classroom

Richard, Santino and John walk round the whole school site to identify things which need fixing rapidly (eg leaking taps); things which need repair or replacement (eg the back up diesel generator); and things which need major new fund-raising (eg another classroom block, and a school assembly/dining hall)

The classroom for the new intake of Primary 4’s has been used as a food store for the past 2 years so we decide to shift everything out temporarily into one of the spare staff bedrooms, until we can raise funds to complete a lockable store-room for food and equipment.  

Lots of the male staff did the heavy lifting and moving, then the P4 girls got moving mopping and sweeping their classroom ready for a clean start on Monday morning.

The need for a lockable storeroom will increase considerably in future because IGBS is growing more of its own food to reduce the bought-in food bill. The current stocks include 10 sacks of maize (ground into flour), harvested from the IGBS market garden.

IGBS also needs to stockpile food to hedge against rampant price inflation (the current stocks include 10 sacks of rice bought in advance to get a good pre-inflation price).

Inflation raises other security pressures and risks. One of the school cooks recently had to be dismissed because of repeatedly stealing food;  and the workmen on site are suspected of stealing 5 bags of our cement (it now costs $41 per bag !). All food, tools and equipment therefore need to be locked away safely, as a precaution.

The size of storage space needed over the next 6 years will increase steadily, as IGBS expands by 40 new students each year until 360 is reached in Feb 2022.

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