We have teamed up with an experienced long-distance walker, Juliet Hill, to launch our new virtual Steps for South Sudan fundraising campaign. 24-year-old Juliet has walked large tracts of wilderness in the USA on her own (so you are in safe hands).
Her latest plans, to walk from Mexico to Canada - no, that isn’t your cabin fever, you read that correctly, over 4,000 kilometres, 2650 miles! - has been postponed due to the pandemic, so Juliet has been working with us to map out the walk from Coventry in the UK (the Headquarters of Friends of Ibba Girls’ School) to Ibba in South Sudan (around 11,000 kilometres). The walk is, of course, completely virtual.
Meet your guide
My name is Juliet and I will be the guide for this trek. Our mission (should you choose to accept it) is collectively to walk from Friends of Ibba Girls’ School (FIGS) HQ in the UK to Ibba Girls’ School in South Sudan. The distance? 11,476 km!
We ask you to donate ‘trek kilometres’ however you wish. This may be in your leisure time or part of your working day, you can get your family and friends to sponsor you, or you can simply make a donation for every kilometre you do! We suggest £1 per km (but don’t let me stop you if you are feeling more generous!). We need both your kilometres and your donations to get us to Ibba.
Donations up to a value of £20 are easy to make: you can text 70470* with the word STEPS and the amount you want to donate (e.g. STEPS 5 will donate £5), or for donations above £20 (or if you'd just prefer to give online), you can make a donation here. You can either include details of how far you have travelled in the comments section or Virgin Giving or email us. That way, we can track your distance.
Although this is virtual and we aren’t actually walking the stunning route (sadly), I will be updating you daily with the distance we’ve ‘travelled’, plus updating our map, as well as a weekly update of where we (would) have reached along with the sights and sounds of everything we (would) have passed! Make sure to share your part of the journey on social media to inspire others to join the trek and keep updated on the FIGS website, on Facebook or Twitter.
* Texts cost the exact amount you donate plus one standard rate message and you’ll be opting in to hear more about our work and fundraising via telephone and SMS. If you’d like to give but do not wish to receive marketing communications, text STEPSINFO [and the amount you'd like to give here, eg. 3] to 70470. Please note, the maximum donation per text is £20 with a daily limit of £30.
What inspired you to do this, Juliet?
The inspiration for this project came from having to cancel a long-distance hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA that I had been planning to do. In the current situation, I wondered what I could do to feel like I was ‘on trail’ and to use this time to do some good! And thus the challenge of organising and walking a virtual hike from the UK to South Sudan was born. With schools and universities closed currently due to the pandemic, it made me think about how privileged we are in the developed world that this is so unusual. What if it was always that way and you just didn’t have the choice to go to school? I have known about Friends of Ibba Girls’ School for a while now and it seemed like the perfect charity to combine hiking and helping.
The UK to South Sudan, that’s a long way! How did you create the route?
The route was created to be as similar as possible to what I would walk if I were actually trekking this. I used pre-existing hiking trails to reach Tarifa at the southern tip of Spain. These were a mixture of UK paths and French/Spanish ‘GR – Grande Randonnée’ paths. There are lots of these across Europe, so it was relatively simple to find a route. Entering Africa at Tangier in Morocco, my knowledge of both geography and trails quickly diminished. Using some maps, guide books and Google maps to show major roads, I planned a route through the Sahara Desert and down to South Sudan in East Africa. Ibba Girls’ Boarding School is in the western equatorial part of South Sudan, about 300km beyond the border with Central African Republic. As this is a virtual hike, I was able to map the route through some areas that would be physically hard to travel through, due to hostile terrain or civil unrest.
You have been walking in lots of different countries, but what got you into it in the first place?
Truthfully, it was all pretty random. After getting into trail-running at university I quickly became aware of the (bonkers but incredible) ultra trail-running scene which led me to discover a trail (the John Muir Trail in California, to be exact) and the thru-hiking community. After seeing pictures and letting my ‘let’s just do it’ attitude get the better of me, I went out to solo hike the 168-mile Tahoe Rim Trail (also in California) the following summer. It was possibly the best two weeks of my life and threw me full force into thru-hiking. Walking through stunning landscapes every day, sleeping under the stars every night, seeing animals I never thought I’d see – and did I mention the Oreos for breakfast? I was hooked. I still am, and have many (many) trails on the list to complete!
This all sounds very exciting, but what is FIGS?
Friends of Ibba Girls’ School (FIGS) is a UK charity set up to support Ibba Girls’ Boarding School in South Sudan. South Sudan, the world’s newest country, became an independent nation in 2011. Most of the country still lacks basic infrastructure such as roads, health services and schools. It has been named the worst country in the world for girls to get an education, and women are twice as likely to die in childbirth than finish their secondary education. Few girls get an education, and high drop-out rates increase further after the age of around 10 – but FIGS is changing that in one locality by developing and supporting quality education for girls from the age of broadly 10 through to 18.
Ibba Girls’ School opened in 2014 with its first class of 40 girls and will reach full capacity of 360 across 9 year groups by 2022. The school is a community school, open to all regardless of background or economic status. It’s also residential, so that girls – who come from a catchment area the size of Scotland – can study safely without the pressure of demanding domestic duties and the risk of early and forced marriage and pregnancy.
This school is now setting an example nationally in South Sudan, inspiring ideas within other schools and giving hope to a new generation of empowered and educated girls, along with their families and communities. However, FIGS needs to raise sufficient funds to provide further classrooms and dormitories and to continue to enable the provision of quality teaching and learning to equip girls for their future lives in work and leadership.
Girls’ education has been described as the most effective way to lift a country out of poverty, and “the world’s best investment”. Thank you for joining me in investing.