In our project updates we have shared with you the story of many women who are going through our training program in hopes of gaining skills to help them build better lives for themselves, their families and their communities. Now we want to share with you the story of why we began working in South Sudan, the challenges our program participants face and the impact we hope to have through our programs.
Our programs in South Sudan include direct financial aid, rights awareness classes, job-skills training and emotional support. The one-year program was developed for South Sudan’s special challenges and demands, and includes vocational training that helps women earn an income and support themselves, through:
Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative (CIFI) — addressing hunger and poverty by teaching women to make an income with organic farming for commercial productionBread-making — helping socially-excluded women learn baking skills so they can produce and sell baked goods.
Meet Tabu, a participant in WfWI - South Sudan's program based in Yei. She will be graduating from WfWI's holistic, 12-month training program this month, where she will have gained knowledge of her rights, basic business skills and vocational training in a skill such as a baking, so that when she graduates she will be able to provide a living for herself and her family.
My name is Tabu and I am 25 years old. I live in Kiniba village in Yei River County, Central Equatoria, South Sudan. I attended school but unfortunately I dropped out in primary five, since my father could not afford to pay school fees. I started brewing beverages to earn income and in the process of selling them I met a man who married at the age of 16 years. We have 3 children.
Domestic violence: My husband beat me whenever he was drunk. As much as I tried to advocate for my rights family and friends did not listen to me. I tried talking to my husband when he was not drunk, but he did not listen.
Enrolment and impact of WfWI program – I was happy to hear about the program by Women for Women International and got enrolled for training that commenced in April 2013. I was feeling powerless and felt that this program would empower me to know my rights and more so face the challenges I was facing of domestic violence. I was very excited to receive the participant ID card from WfWI. However my husband was annoyed at me for attending the trainings and tore the ID card and battered me in the process. I shared this with staff of WfWI who were supportive to me. I realized that the training was important for me and with that made a decision to leave my husband. I went back to my parent’s home and I am now happy to attend the trainings without interferences from my husband.
The trainings helped me to face the challenges in my home and felt empowered to make a decision to leave abusive husband. I have also learnt about saving as a way of and sustaining an income through business. I started the business in July after saving the training stipend for three months and now makes a profit so I have saved 300 SSP (about 100 USD) out of my business. The business helped me to support my children in school and also my mother. In the trainings I learned saving skills, business and how to plan and manage my house hold income
I never borrowed money for starting the business but only used my sister’s household utensils to start the business. I rent the room for 20ssp per month. My immediate plans are to support my children in school and buy mobile phone for communication.
Women for Women International launched operations in South Sudan in 2005, before there was even an official South Sudan. Then the area was part of the country of Sudan. It is an area almost entirely without basic infrastructure, such as roads, health facilities or schools. It is expected that the war here displaced up to two million people. Women for Women International sent an assessment team to Sudan in July 2005 to evaluate the feasibility of helping the country's socially excluded women rebuild their lives, families and communities after conflict. What began as a two-week trip has turned into a long-term commitment to working in South Sudan. We witnessed Sudan's harsh realities firsthand. We found a vast country with a tangled and complex history of conflict that you can see on the faces of the women we serve.
During the 22-year-long civil war plauging the country:
- 4 million people have fled their homes
- 2 million people have died
Women and children in particular have felt the effects of war:
- 2 million women have been raped
- 1 in 7 women in South Sudan will die in childbirth
- 1 in 10 babies will die before their first birthday
We conducted extensive interviews with women at the grassroots level and met with representatives from the government and community based organizations (CBOs). We confirmed reports that women are bearing the brunt of the horror, suffering through unthinkable acts of gender-based violence and sexual slavery, trying to manage survival for them and their families in what were often subhuman living conditions. Amid the horror stories, we also found hope. We discovered a strong civil society and an organized women’s movement with clear optimism for the future of Sudan and keen insight into what is needed to make those hopes a reality. If the international community plans to assist with the country’s reconstruction in any meaningful way, it must seek the wisdom and counsel of Sudanese women.
The following issues are those most frequently mentioned by the women we interviewed as being critical to the country’s future: income generation and employment opportunities for women; girls’ education and illiteracy among women; access to resources, including water, electricity, housing and jobs; customary and family laws regarding early marriage, wife inheritance, ghost marriage and criminal ramifications of adultery, polygamy and divorce rights; gender-based violence; and women’s health, including HIV/AIDS, female genital cutting, reproductive health and maternal and infant mortality and morbidity.
We spoke with Sudanese women’s organizations that are deeply committed to these issues. These organizations are also in dire need of resources and support to build and sustain their organizational capacities. They identified the following primary needs: expand the reach and resources of CBOs through international partnerships; train women leaders in advocacy, coalition-building strategies and negotiation skills; launch a national advocacy program about the importance of including women in reconstruction and transitional development agendas at the local, regional and national levels; promote organizational and staff development with tools and financial resources that improve institutional capacity.
A critical window of opportunity exists for women’s participation in the development and reconstruction of South Sudan. During our assessment, we uncovered both a great need and a great desire for our services and resources, particularly in southern Sudan. Not only has the protracted civil war destroyed any semblance of infrastructure, but the area has some of the highest female illiteracy and malnutrition rates in the world.
- 95% of WfWI - South Sudan participants have no formal education
- 96% of WfWI - South Sudan participants can not read or write
Economic opportunities for women, such as WfWI's bakery program, are vital in making sure that women are fully involved at all levels of society. Despite the devastation wrought by protracted conflict, the population, especially women, is eager and hopeful for change. Women for Women International aims to use our expertise with women and post-conflict societies to help integrate socially excluded women and women’s organizations in Sudan’s reconstruction and development.
Meet WfWI - South Sudan graduate Kana!
Kana is married with 6 children. For Kana, one of the best parts of her year-long WfWI program was the business training.
In addition to specific vocational skills, like breadmaking or farming, the WfWI curriculum includes business training. This means that women in our program don’t just learn a trade but they learn how to turn their trade into an income-generating business, such as a bakery. They learn to buy, sell, serve customers, and manage their finances.
Kana tells us that, through the WfWI business training, she has learned the importance of bookkeeping. Now she counts and keeps track of her products.
Says Kana of her new business and the independence it gives her, "Before I used to rely on my husband for everything, even to buy soap. If my h usband didn't buy soap, I couldn't bathe. Now I buy soap and even have money to send my children to school.
Meet WfWI - South Sudan graduate Helen. She is married with 7 children. As a WfWI participant, Helen not only recieved training in a specific trade like baking or farming, but also learned valuable business skills to help her ensure her small business is sustainable.
Helen tells us she was elected the leader of her business group (“cooperative”). This is a major accomplishment. Women in South Sudan do not often have the opportunity to assume leadership roles in any context.
For the women we serve, forming groups - or cooperatives - can be a great way to start earning and sustaining an income. The members pool their resources, share the work, and produce goods on a larger scale for greater profit.
As the leader of her group, Helen oversees their planning and finances, fosters collaboration, and represents the group locally.
Says Helen when asked about her success, "We need other sisters to get the skills to improve like we have. Thank you to those people who have helped us, bringing us from zero to this state."
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