Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Do it for the kids

Today we had the privilege of visiting the Nile International Academy, a private primary school in Juba. It is often difficult for members of the South Sudanese Diaspora to find great schools for their children here in Juba, and many are reluctant to return or feel like they have send their kids to Uganda or Kenya for schooling. The Nile International Academy was opened in August with the goal of creating a top-tier primary school to help to teach some of the up-and-coming leaders of South Sudan. Many ministers or government officials are now able to send their children to the school and it serves as a big incentive to lure great talent back to Juba.

Sheldon, Sanjay, and I with the nursery kids

The kids were absolutely adorable and all have so much potential. Sheldon, Sanjay, and I divided the students up into three groups by grade level and they did thirty-minute rotations through each one of our stations. I taught them about activities and sports we played in the US, and then had them all color pictures of what they wanted to be when they grew up. Many students wanted to be engineers, pilots, doctors, and lawyers. When I asked one second grader what she wants to be, she told me, “I want to be a doctor and a pilot, so that I can fly out to villages and bring them medicine.” That's the kind of thinking I like to see from second graders. Sanjay did leadership and team-building activities with the kids, and Sheldon showed them what a P.E. class is like in the US. I think they ended up liking Sheldon the best, because they got to play football (soccer).

Amal wants to be the president of South Sudan when he grows up!
Sanjay doing the "human knot" with the kids. Best game ever.

Working with the kids got me thinking about the importance of children in South Sudan’s future. In 2011, Save the Children published a paper entitled South Sudan: A Post-Independence Agenda for Action. It details the challenges facing children in South Sudan and recommendations for steps that need to be taken.

One of the things about the report that stuck out to me the most was this statistic: more than half of South Sudan’s population of 8.26 million is under the age of 18, and 72% of its people are under 30 years old. Protecting children needs to be a central part of development strategy in South Sudan if the country wants to ensure a successful future.

According to the Save the Children report, four times more children are enrolled in primary school now as compared with 2005 during the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). That marks a huge achievement, but there is still a huge amount of work that needs to be done though, as only 40% of men and 16% of women are literate in this country. That number also only applies to basic literacy, and the numbers for functional literacy (ability to apply reading and writing skills to daily life) is estimated to be much lower. Here’s an interesting chart from the report:

All of South Sudan’s problems take a huge toll on the ability for children to become successful members of society. Viable livelihoods are scare in many regions of South Sudan, and young men are increasingly likely to join militias and contribute to further insecurity.

All in all, it was a really fantastic and eye-opening day. Most kids in South Sudan are far from as fortunate as those we visited with today, and even for them the standard of living is far from what it is in the US. It’s easy to throw out statistics like I did above and forget to make the connection that these are living, breathing, and fun loving kids. It’s especially important to remember this considering the important role that children and young people will play in shaping South Sudan’s future.

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