Helping create new opportunities for girls' education
Female students at the Marial Bai Secondary School pictured with Melanie Borgman, a volunteer teacher from New Zealand who visited thes chool in 2009.
Girls’ education is one of the most challenging tasks in South Sudan. As a result of conflict, poverty, lack of access, and other social barriers, less than 1% of girls are studying at the secondary level in South Sudan. Due to cultural factors in South Sudan’s male-dominated society, most families keep girls at home to raise siblings and help with chores like fetching water or pounding grain. When girls do attend school, early marriages and pregnancy result in very high drop-out rates. A teenage girl is far more likely to be married than to be in school—families are given a ‘bride price’ on the wedding day, usually paid in cows. In a region wracked by poverty, this often represents the majority of a family’s income.
The Foundation’s major focus at the Marial Bai Secondary School is to support and educate South Sudan’s future women leaders. To address some of the barriers to girls’ education and to provide a safe learning environment and an alternative to early marriage for female students, the Foundation constructed two girls’ dorms at the Marial Bai Secondary School in early 2010. The dorms accommodate more than one hundred young women—more female students than at any other high school in South Sudan.
The school’s female students will be the first of their generation to have the opportunity to graduate from high school. Special emphasis is being placed on increasing girls’ enrollment through programs such as mentoring, tutoring, parent outreach, and life skills training, to make sure the girls have all the support they need to stay in school and succeed. A dorm mother with experience in Kenya’s boarding schools was hired to look after the girls in the dorm. After consulting with the Marial Bai community, Valentino determined that this is a key component: parents need to know that their daughters will be safe and under the guidance of a woman everyone knows and trusts. Additional female teachers have been recruited to teach at the school.
As the number of girl students increases, so will our boarding program. Through the work of the Foundation, Marial Bai is becoming one of the few centers in all of South Sudan where young women can strive to further their education and pursue professional lives. Girls’ education is the key to South Sudan’s future. Research shows that investing in girls’ education can help decrease poverty, prevent disease, and lessen violence. When a woman prospers, her family prospers—when families prosper, whole communities prosper.
GIRLS' EDUCATION AT A GLANCE
• Less than 1% of girls go to high school in South Sudan.
• During war, a young girl was more likely to die from childbirth than to finish primary school.
• The illiteracy rate among women in South Sudan is 91%.
• While hundreds of young women applied to attend the school, cultural and social factors have prevented all but 33 from enrolling.
• The Foundation constructed two new dorms that accommodate more than 100 young women—more female students than at any high school in South Sudan.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
You can sponsor a girls' scholarship for a year at the Marial Bai Secondary School for a donation of $300. Click the link below to support the Foundation. You can also sponsor a student for a monthly donation of $21. To sign up for a monthly donation in any other custom amount, email us.
The Marial Bai Secondary School
The brand new girls' dormitory, constructed in spring 2010.
A rendering of the completed 18-structure educational center, with boarding facilities located behind the main school quad.
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History of the Foundation
Founders and staff
Community development in South Sudan
Working with the South Sudanese diaspora in the U.S.
Advocacy on South Sudan policy
Comments from other authors
Interview with Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng