Colin Nelsen has been with NESEI from Day 1 on the ground in Sudan. He has sweated with local laborers digging river sand to make building bricks; he has negotiated more deals regarding land, capital assets, and labor issues than he probably cares to remember; and I'm willing to bet that he has changed more than 250 tires in just this last year on trucks, land cruisers, motorbikes, and bicycles to help keep NESEI moving - literally. He has briefly traveled with me stateside trying to raise awareness about the importance of education in a post-conflict country like Sudan. However, independent from the accolades I could heap on him simply for being a great project manager, my respect for Colin grew yet again this last week.
NESEI has a sponsored student who has recently made some poor choices. We can all relate to being a teenager trying to create an independent identity. Bless her heart, she is strong and smart, but partly a rebel. She is not a big believer in the status quo. (Her "scrappiness" will serve her well in later years I believe.) But at this moment in time, she has decided to test the patience of her teachers and other school faculty. We have experienced some challenges with her. She was expelled from one of the public schools for her behaviors.
However, because we are NESEI and because we have a unique group of people working with the NESEI-sponsored students, we will not allow this student to "get lost" in the bush of Africa. So, Colin began communicating with this girl's grandfather and uncle - who serve as her guardians. Colin also called one of our NESEI partners - Health Net/TPO - to arrange counseling for this student. He picked her up and drove her to her first appointment with a counselor. Following that meeting and after multiple conversations with her grandfather and uncle, Colin arranged for her registration in a new school, giving her a fresh start and a second chance at achieving education. Today is her first day back in classes after being expelled.
And by the way, Colin made all these arrangements in the same few days that he was trying to repair two generators, organize supplies for a new rabbit hutch to be built at the school, and help me finalize some documents requesting more money to sponsor more girls!
NESEI knows this girl. We know her family. She sings like an angel. Her smile could provide enough wattage to light up New York city. She likes to read. One day, she would like to travel to Mozambique. Her favorite food is chicken - with french fries. She would like to become a health care professional - possibly even a doctor. Her grandfather and uncle are good men. They have attended school meetings. They care about this young family member and her future. They know - and we know - what she is capable of achieving.
If you are in America reading this story, and you have contributed to our Girls Rising Scholarship campaign, then you too are a part of this story. NESEI does not "assign" students to donors for various reasons. But we do KNOW the scholarship recipients and want our donors to feel assured that we are wisely investing your dollars into the lives of "our girls." All of us are learning lessons along the way. Some days we experience great success; other days, we feel greatly challenged. On those days, it's nice to remember that people care and second chances are available to help make things right.
From Juba, the capitol of South Sudan,
P.S. Speaking of the Girls Rising Scholarship Program, please visit our exciting new Global Giving project - Educate & Empower 200 Girls in South Sudan. http://www.globalgiving.com/projects/girlsrising/
This year, NESEI has launched new girls' education and community enrichment programs in Yei, South Sudan. In addition to growing our student sponsorship program, we have developed a student radio debate program, a community movie theater, a public health youth drama program, and a mobile health clinic.
NESEI started a new student-led radio debate program in March. This brings together young women and men from local high schools to discuss topics such as girls' empowerment, community health, and education development. The debates strongly promote girls' leadership within Sudanese communities. In addition, the radio broadcasts increase community education and awareness on important social issues. From the start, this live debate program has been hugely successful in Yei, garnering a large public following. You can learn more by listening to our podcast at http://www.nesei-media.org/Site/NESEIs_Podcasts/NESEIs_Podcasts.html
Also in March, NESEI opened a community movie theater in Yei. Our theater provides family-friendly entertainment, as well as student-created public health "previews" before each film. The previews are developed through a youth drama program. Students write and perform public health-focused skits that are filmed by NESEI staff and turned into previews for the theater. Enthusiastic student participation in this program has shown that community health education can be great fun!
NESEI has launched a mobile health clinic that travels to local schools around Yei. Staffed by skilled community health workers, the clinic provides critical health care and information to students and their families. To reach more people in need, the clinic operates out of a 4WD NESEI vehicle that navigates difficult roadways and dirt paths. In addition to basic medications and first-aid, mosquito nets are also provided to clinic patients. Through clinic internships and service-learning projects, NESEI students will have opportunities to apply health science skills gained through our education programs.
Enjoy viewing the pics below. Here are descriptions of what they show:
1) A debate participant makes last minute notes before going on-air.
2) Children watch Finding Nemo after learning from a public health “preview.”
3) Students raise awareness of violence against women—a critical health and human rights issue in South Sudan. These girls are learning to strengthen their own voices to achieve equality and respect for human rights in South Sudanese society. In addition to exercising leadership in their schools, NESEI students educate the wider Yei community through the radio debates, theater program, and health clinic workshops.
NESEI's school has continued to be a huge success, inside and outside the classroom. See below for some updates on the school's progress and new programs and accomplishments!
-The campus farm has been hugely successful. It produces a cornucopia of fresh, nutritious foods, including beans, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, watermelon, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and sugarcane! This bounty has helped sustain our school and the local community.
-Student council officials were elected late this summer, allowing students to practice campus diplomacy and to hone their leadership skills.
-Students will take their final exams beginning Nov. 18. They will be tested in subjects that include English, biology, chemistry, health science, and math. The end of exams will mark the conclusion of the school's first year! It is incredible how time has flown by!
-Our health science fellows, Delia and Kaitlyn, have led several successful community health workshops for students, including lessons on women's and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention. The workshops have been very well received by the students.
-A service learning initiative that has been established allows students to participate in beautifying the campus and learning about agriculture management, through participation of farm projects. Students have enjoyed expanding their skills outside the classroom through this unique program.
-Solar powered radios were donated by The Carter Center, allowing students to listen to the news and connect to the world.
-Four laptops have been donated to the "Laptops for Learning" campaign since it was launched. These laptops are providing essential help to the school administration and allow students to improve their understanding of computer technology. Six more laptops are needed before January for the campus computer lab!
On May 19, NESEI's U.S and Sudan staffs were joined by regional chiefs and elders, and other members of the local Lanya County and Yei town communities to welcome the first students of NESEI's flagship school to the new campus.
The "blessing ceremony" was an opportunity for the NESEI family and local Sudanese friends to come together and stand witness to a milestone in development for South Sudan. As each student shook the hand of Directors Robert Lair and Atem Deng and passed through the entrance of the dining hall where the ceremony was held, the dream of providing secondary education in South Sudan took a step closer towards reality.
About 20 young women were present for the blessing ceremony that morning, the first of many young women who will receive a quality, life-changing education at NESEI's first school. They donned their uniforms- a NESEI-orange shirt that bears the message "Building Peace Through Education" and black, cotton skirts- with visible pride. Despite long, difficult journeys from various counties across the region, the girls were cheerful and energetic, listening carefully as the speakers addressed them and the founders of their school.
The ceremony began with a brief address from schoolmistress Margaret Juan, which was followed by an emotional offering of song by the local Lainya County women. Their voices rang out, strong and symphonious, capturing the spirit of the day, and expressing in music a feeling difficult to describe with words. Defying borders, languages, and roads riddled with the potholes of a persistent rainy season, we assembled together that morning to show gratitude and reverence for the accomplishment that was materializing before us.
Each chief took his turn addressing the NESEI community, stressing the importance of community partnerships, respect for the land, and commitment to provide quality education to the young people of Sudan. Robert Lair and Atem Deng also spoke, addressing the group with humility as they presented to the community a school that has been many years in the making.
For Robert, Atem, and the other NESEI founders, this ceremony was the culmination of an idea that first took form on a plane ride home to VT, after Atem's first journey back to East Africa in 2004. That day, Robert and Atem made a plan to bring sustainable peace through education to the people of Sudan. Four years later, the long awaited moment of the school's opening had arrived. But for the people of South Sudan, the wait for education has been much longer, and far more costly. In a region that has been plagued for two generations with a destructive civil war, where over 93% of women are illiterate, where there are less than 100 doctors to serve 10 million people, this health sciences high school is an incredible resource and achievement. It is one of the first major steps towards education and economic development in this region, and it would not have been possible without Sudanese and Americans working tirelessly side-by-side.
This was illustrated when NESEI staff member Anita Henderlight closed the ceremony with a story she had heard from a Sudanese friend: When a group of Sudanese boys were fleeing the civil war and found themselves being forced to cross the River Nile, they had a choice to make. They could either jump in as individuals and fight the currents as one small person, or they could join hands and swim across to safety as one, unified body. Unity was their greatest strength in the face of great difficulty.
With the telling of this story, Anita and the other NESEI staff members joined hands with their Sudanese, Ugandan, and Kenyan friends who have made this first school possible. Then, together, the unified NESEI family took a symbolic jump forward for Sudan.
NESEI’s Sudan Field Officer Lauren Servin reported today that the site of the first school is right on schedule, with construction, student recruitment, and teacher training moving along at an efficient pace. The school, which is being built in Yei, South Sudan, will open to its initial 150 students in late April, with plans to increase student enrollment as funds are raised.
Servin reported that the floors and roofs have been completed on both the classroom and the dormitory buildings, and construction of the dining hall and kitchen has begun. The construction of the classroom blocks should be finished on March 19. In addition, fencing around the perimeter of the campus is nearing completion.
While the field staff are busy building up, they’re also digging down: the foundations for the latrines and showers have been finished, and the borehole, which will pipe in fresh water for the campus and adjoining school farm, is being drilled this week.
Essential agreements and partnerships for construction and recruitment have also been recently created, which will ensure the school's steady progression. The contract for the Staff/Guest housing has been signed and construction on those buildings is set to begin immediately. NESEI’s innovative design for a solar energy system is almost complete, which will provide clean, sustainable, and reliable energy to the entire campus.
The school will welcome six teachers from Kampala, Uganda, who will be joining our school staff on March 24 to begin training and NESEI orientation. From March 26-April 20 curriculum and staff development, as well as classroom preparation will be completed. Interviews of potential students will be conducted in Yei starting March 22, and in the neighboring towns of Juba and Arua beginning March 29.
All of the hard work and waiting will be rewarded on April 21, when NESEI’s new students begin arriving. Classes are scheduled to begin around April 28.
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