Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Prefects take oath of office in South Sudan

Democratically elected student leaders take the oath of office before their classmates and community members during an inauguration ceremony. In South Sudan, the young leaders are called "prefects."

Monday, November 12, 2012

She's a girl. She can read. In South Sudan that makes her special.

Rachel is part of a very elite group of young women in The Republic of South Sudan. Her status does not come from family wealth nor does it come from tribal affiliation. Her affluence comes from being a girl enrolled in her final year of high school. Residing in a country where girls are more likely to die in childbirth than make it to grade 8 of school, she is only one month away from completing a high school education.

 In my work through Africa ELI, I first met Rachel in 2009. She became an Africa ELI sponsored student the following year. Rachel is not atypical of girls in South Sudan. Her father died during the wartime between South Sudan and its northern counterpart. Her widowed mother is not healthy enough to hold a job. An uncle cared for Rachel and her younger sister until he fell ill and died. The uncle’s wife now has responsibility for raising 7 children in her home, including Rachel.

Money to pay for school fees is scarce. But Rachel has dreams. One of those dreams is to graduate from high school. After secondary school, she wants to study law and become a lawyer.

Rachel’s access to school enrollment has been made possible by donors of Africa Education & Leadership Initiative. She knows that Africa ELI donors believe she has a right to be educated. She can bridge the gap in South Sudan’s disproportionate ratio of boys to girls learning in classrooms.  If she can read, write, understand numbers and learn to critically think about problems and solutions, then she is one step closer to bridging the large divide between the illiterate and literate in her country.

One morning I asked Rachel to tell me what she considers the most important thing for girls in South Sudan to learn. She said the highest priority for girls should be to get an education. “When educated, it will be easier to get a job. Problems can be more easily endured.” She identified four school subjects that she considers the most important for helping girls to have a bright future.

First, Christian Religious Education – more commonly referred to as “CRE” – teaches about the importance of helping people. It has helped her to know that one person should not be favored over another. She said, “To become a good lawyer, people should be treated equally and judged according to their problems.” CRE is a mandatory subject in public and private secondary schools throughout South Sudan.

Secondly, Rachel talked about the importance of girls learning History. “We should know how to tell stories and understand the background of our country and our families.”

Two other subjects that Rachel considers necessary for girls are Commerce and Geography. “Girls should know how to carry out business, how to balance bookkeeping, how to calculate and the best ways to economize a business. Geography helps us to know about America, Europe, Australia and even East Africa.” Girls should know how to read maps according to Rachel.

Lessons she wishes had been available to her in school include French, Swahili, and Arabic. Specifically, she would like to know how to write in Arabic.

I was curious to know what skills Rachel thinks a good leader should have. She responded, “A good leader must be social, intelligent, and she should not favor one person over another. A good leader should be honest and hardworking in order to bring people together.” She emphasized the importance of being impartial.

Impressed with Rachel’s strong sense of social justice, I pulled out from my totebag a copy of Eastern Mennonite University’s “Peace Builder” magazine. An Africa ELI board director who attends EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute, Susan Montgomery, PhD, had given me the Spring/Summer 2012 supplement. It featured Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee. Rachel was fascinated to learn that an African woman was so highly regarded by the international community. She turned each page of “Peace Builder” and smiled broadly as she discovered the many ways women are influencing people around the world to work toward a more just and equal society.

I can imagine Rachel becoming a great leader one day. I can visualize her face on the cover of “Peace Builder.” Equipped with her education, she will be ready to tackle the tough issues of her time in the burgeoning country of South Sudan.  With her voice and her knowledge, she can reduce discrimination and assist in the elimination of chronic problems in sub-Saharan Africa such as malnutrition, malaria, AIDS, gender-based violence, and poverty. She will be able to shoulder responsibility in thoughtful and meaningful ways without resorting to warfare.

She is a girl. She can read, write and speak.  By the end of 2012, she will be an Africa ELI-sponsored high school graduate in The Republic of South Sudan. She will be one step closer in the struggle to make education commonplace for girls in the new republic.  She is a torchbearer blazing a new path for the nation’s younger daughters to follow in her footsteps. She is a peacebuilder. She is special.

Written by Anita Ayers Henderlight
Executive Director, Africa ELI
Verbal permission requested and granted by Rachel for publication of this information – Sept 27, 2012

Let Africa ELI represent your belief in the power of education for girls by making a secure online donation at http://africaeli.org or by mailing a check to Africa ELI, 1550 Centervue Crossing- #107, Knoxville, TN 37932.
During the holiday season, consider donating in honor or in memory of someone who encouraged you to stay in school or has given support toward your success.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Carry On

“Maybe people never actually move on. Maybe moving on is just carrying on. Where do you move on to anyway? You still are you, your memory the same memory. And there is no eraser that can erase what experience, the most permanent marker of all markers, has inscribed in the consciousness. I guess we have no choice but to carry on! And carry on we must!”

These words are powerful. They were written by Nyuol Tong, a current Duke University student and former South Sudanese refugee. His words are a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. His story can be found at http://selfsudan.org.

With current media reports of bombing and conflict along the border of North and South Sudan, Nyuol’s urging to “carry on” is evidence of South Sudan’s determination to move forward despite turmoil.

Americans have been asking me, “Are you safe in South Sudan? Are you scared to be there? Are students at risk?”

Here is what I have been saying in response.

Remember 9/11? People in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC were directly impacted by the terrorizing events. They could see wreckage, smell smoke, hear screams, and feel debris on their skin. It was brutal.

What was it like for the rest of the nation? We were shocked. We watched the images of the day unfold on our TVs or computers. Around the United States, and even the globe, we were spectators watching from a distance. We were all impacted, but not of equal magnitude when compared to what was being experienced at Ground Zero.

I would venture to guess that the majority of us in locations outside of NYC, PA, and DC woke up on the mornings of September 12 or 13, got dressed, went to work or school, picked up milk from the store, checked the mailbox, or paid mundane bills. Our awareness of our surroundings was heightened, we were grieving for our nation’s losses, but we continued with our daily rituals and routines. We carried on.

This is similar to what is happening in South Sudan today. The people living along the border with the North are experiencing devastation. They can see, hear, smell, and feel the fighting occurring between northern and southern forces. It is a bad situation. It deserves attention from the international community to promote peaceful negotiations for border demarcation and an agreeable distribution of resources.

For those like Africa ELI staff and students working, living and going to school further south of the border, we get up in the morning, get dressed, and go to school or work. We are aware of the situation. We mourn the loss of life occurring. No one has forgotten the past decades filled with war in North/South Sudan. The memories linger. But the future burns brighter. The cheers for Independence still can be heard. The raising of the new South Sudan flag on July 9, 2011 is inscribed in our collective consciousness.

The situation along the border is not deterring Africa ELI or others from carrying on with education and other public services in the interior of the country. Teaching and learning continue. We believe it is only through education and diplomacy that peace will be fostered and sustained. In light of our circumstances, “we have no choice but to carry on! And carry on we must!”

You can help Africa ELI carry on our important work each day. Will you take a moment and make a donation? Any amount helps us in our work to help South Sudan realize a bright future.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What's for Lunch?

What's for lunch? Here's a school lunch line in Yei. Something good is steaming in that big pot!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Woman in Your Life

We all have one. We would not exist without her. She makes us want to be better, to do better. Who is that woman in your life? How are you different because of her influence?

Tell us.

May 13 is Mother’s Day. We are taking this opportunity to reach out and ask you to tell us about a woman in your life who inspires you. What do you want the world to know about her?

Write 3 to 5 sentences about the special woman in your life. Maybe she’s a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, or a friend. Whoever she is, tell us about her. We will call it our “Honor Roll.” She has already made the grade. Now we get to cheer for her in this simple way.

Honor Roll submissions will be posted on our “2+1” blog next week on May 10. Take a few moments now to write something and send it to anita@africaeli.org. In the message subject line write, “Honor Roll – with her name as it should appear.” We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

All In A Day's Tour - Wisconsin

Laptop, projector and extension cords. Check.
Water, Coke®, and coffee. Check.
Host driver, vehicle with fuel, and destination map. Check.

That’s how Africa ELI rolls. Ready and willing to connect with donors across the United States, we pack our bags, freshen up our presentation with current photos from South Sudan, and hit the road or fly the friendly skies to a location near you.

Sue Plasterer from Madison, Wisconsin coordinated the most recent Africa ELI advocacy and fundraising tour. It was Anita’s 5th visit to the state. Of our 21 donor states, Wisconsin ranks in the top three for contributing sponsorships and resources for students and projects in South Sudan.

Here are 10 tidbits about the recent Wisconsin 10-day tour:

Miles traveled in the state: 1,200
Presentation venues: 21 (schools, churches, Rotary meetings, private homes, and a YWCA)
Host drivers: 9 (Thanks, Sue P., Keith, Sue C., Donna, Arlene, Marilyn, Bernice, Wendell, and Gail!)
Weather: sun, rain, tornadoes, snow
McDonald’s® drive-thrus: 8
Church potlucks: 11
Anita singing the first phrase of the South Sudan national anthem: 19 (Rotarians were spared)
Photographs with really big cow statues: 2
Lost cell phones: 1 (recovered!)
Pictures posted to Anita’s Facebook “Dairyland” album: 38

A significant highlight was an announcement from the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church identifying Africa ELI as an official mission project. This means that any contributing United Methodist Church group desiring credit for mission giving may direct checks through the Wisconsin UMC Conference, PO Box 620, Sun Prairie, WI 53590. The official project number for Africa ELI is #7951.

Next year’s 2013 Wisconsin tour is already being planned. It’s not too early to request a presentation for your church, organization, or group.

Next up? Alabama, Illinois and East Tennessee.