Five years ago my sister died and I was the sole inheritor. My husband and I, academic retirees, are now settled in Greece and our children are successful in their careers, so we saw no need for the money. We looked around for a charity with three buttons to be pushed: Africa, Education, and Girls. We firmly believe that the fate of our planet depends on the universal education of women. Several projects suggested themselves, and Keith went to London to discuss one with the leader of FIGS, John Benington: the setting up of a girls’ boarding school in South Sudan. He invited us to travel to Ibba and see the work in progress and meet the founder of the school, the redoubtable Bridget Nagomoro.
The school’s first building phase was half complete, local craftsmen were constructing tables, chairs and beds and the solar-powered water pump had started to work. The first intake of forty girls was expected in three weeks. Bridget’s forcefulness and vivid personality were the deciding factors. We were hooked, and a cheque was handed over, which in effect paid for the first block of four classrooms.
However, to continue being part of the development of this tremendous, educational enterprise has given us sustained pleasure and excitement over the last few years. FIGS and the school welcome active support, as well as a constant stream of new income for the growing establishment. Forty new girls each year, up to the planned total of 360, and an age range of 10 to 18, require extra buildings, staff and equipment (in February 2019 the school will have its first Secondary School class of 40), but also a constant revising and renewing of the school’s educational purpose and direction. And so there is much positive and rewarding work for interested bodies. In addition, the school is looking to extend its participation with the local community, providing new avenues for support and creativity.
Keith and I go each year to support the very strong teaching staff and do a little teaching, including drama. The girls are wonderful, smart and eager pupils. In November 2017, Keith recorded a CD of the girls singing their traditional songs, as a celebration of their own culture. And we contribute a little money each month by banker’s order. The school is a real pleasure to support, and you can catch on the website something of the joy of the whole undertaking for Friends of Ibba Girls' School.
Friendship means to me that we move beyond tribal and other divisions to be brothers and sisters to people who are not in our immediate family or neighbourhood, or even in our own country. When people ask me why I support Ibba I talk about “friendship across the divide”. Friendship like this is essential to avoid political manipulation, to build a nation rather than fostering regional competition. I also support Ibba because it goes beyond aid or charity to empowerment, giving girls the ability to stand up for themselves and their community. We already see this when girls go home in the holidays and encouraging learning in their own households and communities. When Ibba thrives it will contribute to the whole of South Sudan, and will be a source of pride for the whole country.
Friendship is not just about sharing what we have, it is also about sharing what we learn, about offering words of encouragement and advice, and building confidence. These are challenging times for South Sudan and Ibba, and everything which contributes to our nation needs our friendship more than ever.
As a health professional I know that if you educate girls, you educate families, and achieve so much more. It is the women and the girls who can change household behaviour, who manage household budgets – however limited – and who reinvest in health and education for their children, who protect families from illness and malnutrition. I learnt this when I worked in Sudan and Somalia. Girls have the potential to be the key agents of change in South Sudan, and it is heartening to hear how the girls of Ibba are already sharing new knowledge about healthcare and sanitation with their families and communities.
It is also really important to me that the school is rooted in a locally-felt need and initiated through the vision of a local person; that it helps people where they are; that it does so in partnership with the community and with elders, religious leaders and local authorities. It is both wonderful and extraordinary that they have a resource like Ibba Girls’ Boarding School, and it needs ongoing support so that, despite the challenging context, it can continue to thrive and to help girls, families and whole communities in this area of South Sudan.
As the world’s newest country, South Sudan desperately needs initiatives which provide opportunity and hope. My Christian faith also motivates me to support Ibba Girls’ Boarding School because it is an example of love in action and bridges denominational divides. As some of the most marginalised in society, girls are especially in need. Given that fewer than 1% of young women in South Sudan complete their education, we must give all we can at the moment so that the school can open its secondary stream at the beginning of 2019.