The grim reality in South Sudan is that an estimated seven girls per ten boys attend primary school and only five girls per ten boys enroll in secondary education according to a report on Education in the Republic of South Sudan conducted by World Bank in 2012.
This notwithstanding, UNICEF indicates that more than two million children, or over 70%, are out of school in South Sudan and the largest group of out-of-school children in South Sudan are girls. This means completing primary and secondary school for Sudanese women and girls remains a mirage. But amidst these statistics, poor health indicators and low skilled health workers, more than 1,000 girls in Maridi Girls Boarding Secondary School for Science continue to blossom in Africa’s newest nation.
Given the fragile situation coupled with years of civil wars, many schools like Maridi Girls were left deserted, shut or destroyed, with only infrastructure missing the integral part of a school, students and teachers.
Today, the school is a safe haven for many girls, thanks to Amref Health Africa in Italy, which revamped the school in 2013 after the civil war.
“We started from zero. In 2013, we enrolled only 50 students. In 2019, we have 170 students and the number is on a steady increase,” says Mr Bullen Emmanuel Batavuru, the school’s Principal.
The school aims at empowering girls, especially those with a science background to become nurses, clinical officers and midwives, thereby ensuring gender equity in the health sector.
Mr Batavuru appreciates the impact of training girls and women in the community. “The school has increased the number of girls joining Maridi Health Science Institute to pursue science related,” he confirms.
Natabugu Zosia Augustino, a former student of Maridi Girls is now pursuing a Diploma in Midwifery at Maridi Science Institute of Technology. Augustino who graduated in 2020 advices and encourages other girls to take up science courses.
“The secondary school moulded me to be a great leader and venture in science related courses; it was a steppingstone to my goal. I wanted to be a doctor,” says Augustino.
Apart from academics, the school also equips the students with social and entrepreneurial skills that help them after school. They also have the opportunity to join Debate, Agriculture and Academic clubs.
Parents have greatly supported the school. They joined hands and constructed toilets and washing facilities for the school. “Parents pay a little fee for their children. We tell their parents to invest in education especially for girls. Parents have trusted us, and that is why they cost share the fees for sustainability,” says the headmaster.
In an article on Medium by UNICEF in 2016, it states that more teenage girls in South-Sudan die in childbirth than finish high school.
“Every week, we conduct health forums where we empower girls and talk to our students on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) issues,” he says.
Despite the setbacks, the school is determined to save girls from early marriages and keep those who are already affected in school. In so doing, the school has contributed to the reduction of early pregnancies in Maridi State.
“In 2013, five girls dropped out of school as a result of early pregnancy. In 2019, only two girls dropped. As much as the numbers are declining, we are working to ensure that no girl is out of school because of pregnancy, “adds Mr Batavuru.
17-year-old Jane Wote, a senior two student and chairlady of Academic club confirms that she could be wandering in streets if the school did not give her a second chance.
“Some of my classmates gave birth and left their children at home, they came and continued to study despite being mothers. If this school was not there, I would be married by now. This school has empowered girls in this community and when they come here; they put effort in education and perform well, “she explains.
The school faces a myriad of challenges, among them, lack of laboratory apparatus, books and funds to support development projects. Despite these challenges, the institution continues to empower women and girls to reach higher academic heights. The school has given chances to many young women who got pregnant or gave birth while in pursuit of their education, demonstrating to the entire nation that women if given better training in sciences can equally become better Doctors or Health personnel.
By Maureen Cherongis – Media and External Relations Officer at Amref Health Africa