Wednesday 11 – Friday 13 November
The Friends of Ibba Girls School recently took part in the RISING 15 Global Peace Forum, a 3-day conference in Coventry which explored new ways of thinking about peace and conflict in our turbulent world.
The programme took place inside the impressive Coventry Cathedral, adjacent to the iconic Cathedral Ruins, which stand as an enduring and potent international focal point for peace and reconciliation.
Amongst likeminded global leaders, practitioners and advocates working for peace, we explored the notion ‘A Hard Road to Hope’ in our Pencil Power presentation. In hearing from members of the South Sudanese diaspora, we learnt about the challenges facing young girls in South Sudan, and the importance of a secondary education for girls in the world’s newest nation; a nation which is still feeling the effects of 50 years of war and poverty.
In South Sudan a girl is twice as likely to be illiterate than a boy, and pressures to succumb to domestic work, early marriage and pregnancy are commonplace. Our presentation aimed to highlight just how real the struggle is for girls in South Sudan. On Wednesday 11 November, three inspiring South Sudanese women joined Jacob Lagu, trustee of Friends of Ibba Girls School to take on the question of education in their home country. The trio are living proof that changing the lives of girl students has the ability to in turn contribute positively towards whole communities.
Josephine Yanga, the eldest daughter of Rt. Gen Joseph Lagu, former Vice President of South Sudan, spoke of the hardships of her past school life. When white missionaries were expelled from their positions and the political situation deteriorated she lost two years of her education. Circumstances meant that she spend time in refuge without her parents, and took on some of the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings. Occasionally she had to skip school to harvest crops in exchange for something to eat, and domestic chores also meant that as a day pupil she hardly had enough time or energy left to do homework after school - particularly since the journey home was a two mile walk. Josephine knows all too well the challenges faced when juggling studying and a career with motherhood, and is proud that she has raised her daughters to be high achievers; both are science graduates. Today she is committed to education, working in Child Development, as a Teacher, and Educational Planner. She says that the driving force behind her educational career was my father, “My father saw it important to give both girls and boys equal educational opportunity.”
Pamela Lomoro spoke of how her mother was among the first Ugandan women to graduate from a Western University with a nursing and management qualification. Despite statistics proving that close to half of girls aged 15-19 are married off, Pamela didn’t have this worry – her parents did not subscribe to such traditional views and an environment of education always existed for Pamela at home. In the face of civil war she moved to London in the late 80’s with her mother, where she constantly dreamt of one day going back to South Sudan to help bring peace and development in the same way that her parents did following the first war that ended in 1972. Pamela returned to South Sudan in 2004, after gaining her PHD in Engineering. During her stay she visited schools in the town of Yei, delivering resources and talking to teachers and pupils about the challenges they faced in attaining education. This trip greatly influenced Pamela and marked the beginning of her personal journey towards promoting education initiatives in South Sudan. Pamela is a firm believer that girls should be given opportunities:
“Nobody told me I could not be an Engineer...nobody discouraged me.”
Nyakor Gabrial Riam, named ‘Child of War’, spoke of how at not even two hours of age her village was raided by rebels. Despite being born into chaos, she became the first child from her family to graduate after education was instilled in her as a vital tool in life by her father. She moved to London aged 4, and despite growing up here she is committed to pushing for education back home and believes education for girls is important not only as a human right but for peace. Nyakor co- founded a company called TamamGlobal in 2010 whose main aim is to help entrepreneurial South Sudanese living in the diaspora, and help encourage sustainable and ethical businesses to participate in the development and rehabilitation of social structures in South Sudan. Nyakor spoke of her aspirations:
“I hope to be remembered as a child who helped bring peace to south Sudan and contribute to a sustainable health and education system.”
The discussions focused on the practical steps that are being taken along the very hard road to hope, and shed light on the importance of building from the ground up; working with grassroots communities to achieve our objective and steer a peaceful course for the future. As Jacob Lagu said, “Educating girls has a transformative power on society…girls help to lift everyone else”.
A similar sentiment was echoed by Gordon Brown in his keynote speech the following morning. Championing hope as the main factor in human motivation, he praised the work of Ibba Girls School, and also spoke of the role of the government in helping achieve the overall objective:
“Ibba school is one of these great projects…Bridget and others have come together to create the school to help people in this area. In order to allow another 40 girls to join the school they need to raise money so this is a direct appeal for donations for one particular project that on the ground can make a huge difference…You have to also ask the government: “Look, how can you justify spending 10% of the national budget on military weapons and less than 1% on education, how can you deal in the weapons of death but give nothing to the cause that is most important…”
As he went on to say, schools should be safe havens for innocent children, a place of safety in which the children of tomorrow can be educated; this is exactly what we are providing for girls in Ibba. Whilst IGBS is a drop in the ocean of need, as the vision becomes a reality it is already sending out strong ripples into the families and local communities from which the girls come.
Click here to see more photos taken from the event.