Thursday 9 October 2014 saw one of the largest gatherings of South Sudanese diaspora in London for the official launch of Pencil Power.
Pencil Power uses the pencil – the simplest tool for writing and learning - as the symbol for the power and promise of education.
Speaking with passion, Lord Michael Bichard who chaired the event, drew on a line from the Ibba Girls School song, 'Together we Live, Together we Learn', to highlight the importance of union and partnership which is at the heart of this project. He voiced the crucial need to provide chances for the girls of South Sudan and to help the country to build a sustainable education system.
Joe Timmons, from DfID and the UK Aid Programme for Girls Education in South Sudan, spoke of how the charity provides ‘a beacon of hope for the country’. The poignant Ibba School film was subsequently shown and a collective text donation was called for with everyone pressing ‘send’ simultaneously.
'Educate a woman and you educate a nation', the words of this powerful African proverb reverberated around the room as Michael Saki, First Secretary of the South Sudan Embassy, delivered his speech. Saki expressed his complete support for the charity as education will stimulate change and progress.
South Sudanese diaspora shared stories and vision for the future of their country. Aman Atak, niece of supermodel Alek Wek, is a highly motivated individual who is reading Engineering at Cambridge University and is the CEO of a technological enterprise. She hopes that education will lift her homeland out of poverty with the vision that the girls will become the future leaders of South Sudan. Miri Samuels, who is the founder of 2nd Chance, a company designed to give young people in South Sudan and the UK work opportunities, also gave a moving speech. She simply but effectively said ‘everyone deserves the chance to learn’.
Distinguished guest, General Joseph Lagu, former president of the Autonomous Region of South Sudan talked of the current barriers to girls’ education in South Sudan such as child marriages and domestic chores. Currently a 14-year-old girl is more likely to die in childbirth than complete her education. He called for the need to educate the mothers and fathers of the importance of sending their daughters to school and the need to phase out the practice of paying a ‘bride price’.
The Pencil Power campaign is endorsed by a number of leading figures and their supportive words captured the feeling of the event.
Baroness Estelle Morris said ‘I have been both delighted and impressed by your progress’.
Margaret Sentamu, wife of the Archbishop of York, reassured attendees that ‘every single penny raised counts and will go a very long way at the other end’.
Baroness Caroline Cox said ‘education for girls must be one of the highest priorities for the nation of South Sudan’.
Towards the close of the talks a number of supporters took to the podium to express why they choose to donate to the Friends of Ibba Girls School.
Rachel Horne from the Horne Family Trust said that as a woman herself she wants to enable girls to fulfil their potential, particularly in such a new and fragile country.
The next supporter has a unique connection with the nation, having been born in Africa himself. Anthony Lawton from Joyce Carr Doughty Trust spoke of his recent trip ‘back home’ and of the kind and embracing welcome he received at the airport.
FIGS Trustee, Hugh Paget, explained that the best part of supporting Ibba Girls School is that everyone can connect to the project and you actually get to see where the money is going and the progress it is making. He declared that it’s a wonderful charity to be part of.
After rapturous applause to show appreciation for all those involved in the charity, everyone gathered around the tailor-made giant pencil for their own #pencilportraits to raise awareness across social media. The idea is that you take a quirky photograph with a pencil, in this case a giant pencil, and nominate others to do the same to spread the message that a pencil spells hope for the girls of Western Equatoria State, South Sudan.