Education represents the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of children, families, communities, and nations around the world—the most reliable route out of poverty and a critical pathway towards healthier, more productive citizens and stronger societies.
From Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All, United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for
Statistics and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Today, an estimated 58 million children of primary school age (ages 6 to 11 years) are not attending school worldwide. Among adolescents (ages 12 and above), 63 million are not attending secondary school worldwide (UNESCO Institute for Statistics and UNICEF). Education is crucial for children to reach their potential and fulfill their life’s goals. But for some children, the obstacles to receiving an education are much greater than for others. Statistically, children living in the poorest communities of developing countries struggle with persistent barriers to receiving the education they need.
Children whose homelands have been ravaged by conflict—and those living in or fleeing active conflict zones—face steep barriers. Girls are more likely to be kept home from school than boys in some countries. In other areas, children cannot attend school because they must work in menial jobs to help their families survive.
Teacher and principal, Asunta Abuk, meets with a student in her office, Aweil town, South Sudan. PHOTO: UMCOR SOUTH SUDAN
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) helps to strengthen children’s education in many different ways. Though UMCOR is generally not involved in the daily activities of teaching children, as part of its development work it often finds ways to assist communities that seek to provide better education for their children. In Haiti, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, UMCOR has constructed classrooms, school latrines, and provisions to collect and store fresh water.
UMCOR’s Education and Child Protection program in Sudan focuses on teacher training, school construction or reconstruction, establishing parent-teacher associations, and providing essential school supplies for students. Some of the UMCOR country offices contribute sports equipment, classroom equipment, desks, and other school furnishings, often in partnership with other international or government humanitarian organizations.
In places where families are reluctant to send girls to co-ed schools, UMCOR has developed programs to enhance girls’ enrollment and retention. Community engagement programs that teach the importance of girls’ education may be part of this work. In South Sudan, UMCOR has trained teachers and students to monitor daily attendance through the South Sudan School Attendance and Monitoring System (SSAMS) and supported a girls’ mentoring program in schools.
Sometimes the barriers to education are not complicated but still insurmountable without help. A little extra money to pay tuition, or buy such necessities as uniforms, supplies, or books may be all a child needs to enroll in or stay in school. Even the lack of sanitary supplies for menstrual periods for some adolescent girls means they miss a week of classes every month. UMCOR grants and interventions help surmount these barriers in targeted communities.
Construction Builds Hope
By UMCOR Sudan*
Bara’a, a 13-year-old student at El Nigomi Primary School in Eddaein, a town in the state of East Darfur, is not using the latrine at her school. “It’s only for the teachers and it’s about to collapse” she said. Although the school has been operating since 1995, the facilities are in poor condition. “We do suffer during the rains, winter, and when the weather becomes hot as well. There is dust all year long,” Bara’a continued.
Bara’a comes from a family with nine children, four girls and five boys. Her eldest brother left school and now works as a police officer to help the family income. Her family struggles to send her and her siblings to a private school, and Bara’a is constantly at risk of dropping out. The absence of a proper latrine only heightens the risk, as her family may decide at any time that it is unsafe for her to attend.
Students in the El Nigomi Primary School in Eddaein, East Darfur, Sudan, now have safe sanitary facilities thanks to UMCOR and the Sudan Ministry of Education. PHOTO: UMCOR SUDAN
UMCOR staff noticed the condition of the school during its regular monitoring visit, conducted jointly with the Sudan Ministry of Education (MOE). As a result, UMCOR proposed building at least four new classrooms and one office of semi-permanent materials. The school will also receive a ventilated improved pit latrine (VIP) with multiple stalls, meeting national standards, with an area for girls’ privacy.
UMCOR Sudan has found that the installation of these kinds of facilities and resources result in an increase in female student enrollment and also attracts better-qualified teachers.
*UMCOR Sudan was established in 2005 and works primarily in the area of South Darfur. Its programs include peace building, education, agriculture and food security, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
Salva Kiir Girls Secondary School-Aweil Town
By Asunta Abuk*
Girls’ mentoring is a key component of the Girls Education South Sudan (GESS) project. GESS is a five-year education project funded by the United Kingdom (UKaid, Department for International Development, DFID) in collaboration with the Republic of South Sudan (RoSS) with UMCOR South Sudan as one of its implementing partners. The project promotes increased enrollment, attendance, and retention of girls in schools. In some parts of South Sudan, forced marriage, high poverty levels, and early pregnancies prevent girls from accessing education.
UMCOR, with funding and support from GESS Secretariat and in collaboration with the South Sudan Ministry of Education and community members, identifies and trains women leaders to act as mentors for girls in secondary schools.
Staff from UMCOR South Sudan talked with Asunta Abuk, the head teacher of Salva Kiir Girls Secondary School, on her role as a mentor and how she works with teenage girls to help them realize their academic dreams.
Asunta Abuk meets with girls during a morning mentoring session at Salva Kiir Girls School in South Sudan. PHOTO: UMCOR SOUTH SUDAN
As the head teacher of Salva Kiir Girls Secondary School in Aweil Town, South Sudan, I have worked with many girls and young women over the years and I understand their challenges as they try to complete their education. It is not easy, but with support from the Girls Education South Sudan (GESS) and local authorities, we have managed to ensure that a good number of the girls in this school complete their secondary education.
There are enormous challenges for these girls—including a lack of sanitary pads and a lack of potable water because of an inoperable borehole—but the biggest challenge has to be the drop-out rate. There is a need for continuous dialogue with the men in the community to help them understand that, just as they feel it is important for their boys to go to school, the same right should be extended to their girls, as education is a fundamental right for all children. Members of parliament need to draft legislation that prohibits parents from withdrawing girls from schools to marry them off. It is a high time we realize that girls are human beings, not commodities for auction.
US readers may be surprised to learn that a woman in South Sudan is a head teacher leading a team of male teachers. I strive always to offer leadership in a way that earns people’s respect. I am a role model and mentor for the students. My position is a real-life example of how a woman can reach higher goals, just as men do, and also that a woman can lead men as colleagues on a team that works together to achieve results.
I was trained by UMCOR through the GESS project along with other women leaders in our community. Mentors explain to the teenage girls the challenges they experienced when they were in school and how they managed to overcome them. I try to use this knowledge to help students with their daily life struggles. I can say that our students are lucky. When I was growing up, girls attending school was almost unheard of. I particularly count myself lucky and grateful to my parents for having given me the opportunity to complete my education.
But our students are fortunate because there are organizations and people working so hard to support their education. We are seeing positive changes and we believe that this is a sign of good things to come in the future.
I think it is important for the partners supporting girls’ education to also consider supporting the teachers. Education is not about the number of students that pass through a school but the difference education makes in their lives. Our teachers have worked three months or more without receiving their salaries from the government. They worry about what their families will eat, and because we teach full-time, we don’t have time to work our farms.
For quality education to be achieved, all considerations contributing to that goal must be considered, not just a concentration on the attendance of the girls.
*Asunta Abuk is the head teacher for Salva Kiir Secondary School in Aweil Town, South Sudan. Mentoring activities are currently taking place in 10 schools in Aweil Town, with a possibility of extending the support to more schools in the future. UMCOR operations in South Sudan were established in 2006, before the new country’s independence from Sudan.
Lycee des Jeunes Filles de Miragoane
By UMCOR Haiti*
After 20 years, the Lycée des Jeunes Filles de Miragoâne school finally has its own buildings. Nearly US $1 million has been invested in this project to provide the school’s 700 students with a modern and fully equipped space for education.
Nadege Dépré, director of the Lycée des Jeunes Filles, an all-girls’ school in Miragoâne, Haiti, could not contain her tears at the inauguration ceremony as she recalled the dark years the institution weathered before the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) built new classroom buildings on the campus. PHOTO: UMCOR HAITI
Nadege Dépré, director of the Lycée des Jeunes Filles, an all-girls’ school in Miragoâne, Haiti, could not contain her tears at the inauguration ceremony as she recalled the dark years the institution weathered before the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) conducted the construction of new classroom buildings on the campus. Dépré had nearly lost any hope that she would be able to offer her pupils a serene and safe place to study. The founding of this national school in this community, whose history goes back to 1996, proved to be problematic from the beginning. It has faced administrative difficulties, a lack of professors, and especially, difficulty in finding adequate space. In 2014, UMCOR rehabilitated a much larger girls’ school of the same name, established in the 1950s, in Port-au-Prince.
The Desire to Learn
“An attractive, clean, and healthy space where the students feel safe encourages a desire for learning,” commented Benilhomme Montélus, Haiti’s departmental director of education, at the celebration of the buildings’ opening. He spoke before cutting the ribbon in front of departmental and municipal authorities and hundreds of students and their families who had gathered on the new balconies of the building for the occasion. “It is one of the most beautiful facilities of the department,” Montélus declared. He thanked UMCOR, whose team, he estimates, “had to cross many obstacles to arrive here.”
UMCOR Haiti’s head of mission, Azim Akhtar, who helped to cut the ribbon, said that at the heart of the building project was a desire to offer a place that students, particularly those of disadvantaged households, can use as a springboard for their professional lives. Born into a poor family in Pakistan, Akhtar knows whereof he speaks. During the ceremony, he shared his vision of future women doctors, engineers, and politicians—alumni of this school.
UMCOR invested nearly US $1 million, coming from gifts made across the world by United Methodists, to build a modern and roomy school that is resistant to seismic activity. The new school also received necessary furnishings for the new space as well as a cistern for water and accessible accommodations for handicapped children.
*UMCOR Haiti was established in 2010 in response to the massive earthquake that left some 230,000 people dead, more than 300,000 injured, and more than 1 million displaced. Prior to that, UMCOR had opened an office in northern Haiti from 2004-2006 in response to devastation caused by Hurricane Jeanne.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Spring 2017 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.