Weaver Birds and Work Permits


Some Notes on Visit to Juba and Ibba in Nov 2017

John Benington, November 2017

I first visited South Sudan in 2007 and have been going there roughly 3 times a year for the past 10 years. Our two week visit this November proved to be one of the most challenging so far. However, it also showed us the remarkable progress being made at Ibba Girls School and at state and county levels, in spite of the volatility at national level.    

Sadly, in Juba we saw many signs that the country is slipping even further into political economic and social crisis, with unresolved conflicts, a militarised government, atomisation into tribal divisions, hyper-inflation, scarcity of essential goods (including food and fuel), the collapse of banking, the growth of a cash-based black market economy (diesel is being sold on the street in 1 litre drinks bottles), poverty, malnutrition, disease, displacement and exodus as refugees.        

Paradoxically this dire collapse is also leading to a stranglehold of bureaucratic red tape. Jean and I found ourselves trapped in Juba for 5 days and prevented from travelling on to Ibba because of 1 week- old regulations requiring anyone from outside South Sudan to have written permission to travel outside the capital, in addition to our entry visas. We were rescued only by special intervention by our good friend Bishop Wilson Kamani who happened to be in Juba at the time, but it felt too much like Kafka or George Orwell. A separate set of new regulations, from another government department, now requires all staff from other countries to apply and pay for work permits within 30 days, or be expelled. Some of this is a necessary protection for the safety of visitors, but it is also reveals a growing distrust of outsiders, and the defensive turning inwards of a suspicious surveillance state.

In spite of all this, and the 6pm curfew in Juba, we found and met lots of good people in the government,  NGO’s and churches, still getting on with their daily jobs and trying to improve conditions for their people. We managed to visit Juba Diocesan Girls School, and met their  inspiring head teacher from whom we can learn much about organising a secondary school.

We also had excellent meetings with the under-secretary of education, UNICEF, Windle Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid and with Valentino Deng (the subject of Dave Eggers best selling book “What Is The What ?”) who is keen to share experience with us of difficulties in setting up schools in South Sudan. We also met with our acting chair of Governors Sapana Abuyei and with the chair of our PTA Hon Alfred Rugapai who is in Juba undergoing treatment for cancer.

After 5 days in Juba, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) was eventually able to fly us on to Maridi and Ibba, with our boxes of text-books and equipment for the school. In Maridi we had an encouraging meeting with Hon Jane Pia the State Minister of Education, and with their Director General Charles, who is proving to be a tower of strength and support for Ibba school. They are now beginning to help IGBS with books and resources, and promises of medicines. 

Once in Ibba I spent a lot of time working with the Head-teacher Richard Aluma (now mercifully better after his dreadful bus accident last term) and with Deputy Head-teacher Vicky Dratia, in tackling some difficult challenges about how to maintain and strengthen tight financial management and accountability in an economy where the banks have closed, price inflation escalates daily, and where most things are negotiated in cash on the street.  

We were impressed by the way they and other staff are taking responsibility for the running and improvement of the school, and for the way they are working with the Board of Governors to confront and deal with difficult issues honestly. (See also Gary’s financial reports on actions being taken) 

We came back full of admiration for the way Ibba Girls School has not only kept going through all the turbulence but is emerging as a lively and stimulating community in which girls are getting a good and happy education in spite of the conflict.

We are committed to remaining lifelong friends of Ibba Girls School, and to working in long term partnership with them through all the ups and downs. The hope for South Sudan’s future lies in this new generation of young people who though education will have the knowledge, skills and values to lead the country forward into a period of peaceful development. But their future has to start today.

And the weaver birds? Vicky told us that the wonderful colony of weaver birds which nest and chatter in one of the large trees near the kitchen, leave the campus when the term ends and return when the students return !  Vicky’s explanation is that when the campus is unoccupied during vacations the snakes return and threaten the weaver birds. So IGBS provides a safe haven for weaver birds as well as 130+ girl students !    

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