Look, we have a new Executive Director! After 10 years of tireless volunteer work, our founding Executive Director, Carol Rinehart, retired on June 1, 2015 and passed the elder stick to Daniel Majok Gai. Carol co-founded the organization with Isaac Khor Bher, a “lost boy of Sudan” after the two of them went to Sudan to find Isaac’s mother. Isaac and his mother had been separated by the countries long-lasting civil war for over 20 years. Education was the most important need in Isaacs’s home village of Konbeek, according to the elders. This request from the elders of Isaac’s village resulted in the launch of Project Education South Sudan.
Daniel Majok Gai was another “lost boy of Sudan” who located to Denver Colorado in 2001, coming from the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. Daniel worked on his degree in Psychology at the University of Colorado in Denver, became a US Citizen, and joined the work of Project Education South Sudan. In 2009, he too made a trip with the organization to be reunited with his family in Pagook, a short distance from Isaac’s village.
In 2011, Daniel offered to return to Sudan, shortly before South Sudan obtained its independence from the country of Sudan. Daniel went as a representative of Project Education South Sudan and decided to stay. On June 1 of this year, Daniel became the second Executive Director of the organization. He continues to live in Bor, South Sudan, making periodic trips to Denver to reconnect with supporters and friends.
How can we thank all of you enough for sharing your hard earned dollars to support Daniel in his efforts to rebuild his war-torn country? You are truly making a difference! Here are some of the things that have been happening recently:
Last Mango in Bor- HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership & Pad Production Programs a success!
(The success of this sustainable program is because of the tremendous support we have gotten from all our of our GlobalGiving donors!)
PESS South Sudan Director, Daniel Majok Gai and I met with Bor County Commissioner, Abraham Mamer Ruk to follow up and give him a final report on the HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership and the Sanitary Pad Production Programs. He was impressed with our three month project and with the number of pupils we had in our training classes who will in turn train the students at their four schools. The highlight is the whole state of Jonglei, through the Ministry of Education, will embed it in the school curriculum!
Daniel and I also traveled to Pagook, Daniel's home village and one of the areas PESS supports girls' education and builds classrooms.
During the crisis in December of 2013 everyone fled the quiet village of Pagook as their homes were set on fire, cattle stolen and approximately more than a dozen killed by the so-called rebels. Where there were once family tukuls (homes) now grows prairie land.
But the community is rebuilding and starting to come back home. That's why PESS is committed to making sure students have classrooms to come back to. "So many buildings were burned down and destroyed but people are rebuilding and we are building classrooms which will be ready to open soon... when people come back," said Daniel.
The highlight of the HIV/AIDS youth leadership program week of course was the last few days of the sanitary pad vocational sewing program. Frustrated frowns turned into bright smiles as the women and girls developed their sewing skills. The sweet hum of sewing machines were accompanied by the girls and women harmonizing and singing songs of praise. It was magical. Their songs illustrated how happy they are to be learning a skill that will transform their lives.
One high achiever and PESS sponsored girl, Anai, a Sunlight Primary student, even sewed a skirt and top all on her own earlier in the week and wore it to class. She has never sewn anything in her life... ever! So, of course we had to have a fashion show! Abuk played music from her cell phone while Anai walked the fashion cat walk and twirled the bottom of her dress. Then others joined in on the fun. Even Daniel strutted his fashion style (keep your day job, Daniel - lol!)
Then it was time for our graduation ceremony. Each woman who completed the course received a certificate and a gift bag containing brand new sanitary pads sewn by women in the U.S. and other personal items. After testimonies from 28 girls and women, each school was gifted a sewing machine, scissors, notions and tools to continue on their own based on what they learned from the business model segment of the class.
We were honored to have a representative from the Ministry of Education's office was also a guest speaker. He encouraged the women to not just complete their studies but to also go on to become leaders in their own way in their communities and throughout South Sudan. "It is said that if you educate a woman, you educate a nation. This is very true, especially here in South Sudan," Langbaar Modern Secondary School Principal made a commitment to carry on the sewing program by encouraging the students to form a club at Langbaar and the other schools to teach others who were not able to take the PESS courses.
David, Ministry of Education health care specialist and one of our team members said he and Rebecca, our other health care professional, will take the model of the entire program (both the HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership and Menstrual Management) to other parts of the community and Jonglei state. "We can't keep this knowledge for ourselves. We must make sure everyone is getting HIV/AIDS information and knowledge."
They opened their minds to new ways of thinking like understanding how stigma and discrimination can not only hurt an individual but it can also destroy a community.
Policy makers from the county, state and local level have made a commitment to take ownership and see that these programs continue, expand and adapt to more communities and people in Jonglei state and even throughout South Sudan.
Despite political posturing at the capital in Juba and with the African Union and the failure of so-called peace talks South Sudanese, at least those here in Bor, are determined, with the support of Project Education South Sudan, to become an educated, thriving country contributing to the rest of the global community.
We all remember biology classes where we talked about the reproductive system and personal body parts, right? A bit intimidating, even a little embarrassing? That was also true for our South Sudanese students but by the end of the first class they were already game to have lively conversations about gender roles and stereotypes and eager to learn more about female menstruation management.
One of the exercises this week at the Project Education South Sudan's HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership and Menstrual Management Training in Bor, South Sudan was where we began to see a real shift in how girls realized their own power. We asked the girls to explain female menses to the boys.
It was exciting to see the girls becoming more comfortable with talking and actually leading the discussion. The students then divided into small groups of 4 or 5 and we could hardly get them to stop talking when the session had run well past the allotted time!
Although these young people, again, ages 13 to 20, have seen more in their young lives than most adults in America will ever see, they are still in many ways naive. Many had never heard of a condom let alone seen or held one. Each student got to open a package containing a condom as we explained how it is used. We lightened up the conversation by having them blow up the condoms like balloons and then decorate the classroom with them. Soon the energy and room felt like we were decorating for prom!
To complete the celebration at the end of class, we made HIV/AIDS Awareness Red Ribbons the students will wear to start conversation and education with their peers.
All in all, it is thrilling to see the needle move a little bit when it comes to girls realizing their power, boys respecting girls and each other, and the students getting a solid understanding of HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention!
Read Tamara’s weekly blog to hear more about the teacher & student training! Her style is light, sensitive and engaging… Tamara’s blog link here
Dear Supporting Friends,
Thank you for your continued support of Project Education South Sudan’s Unleash the Leaders Girl’s Leadership Development program. We are proud to announce PESS is sharing our HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership and Menstrual Management Pad Vocational Programs in Nepal, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Equatoria, South Sudan. We, as you know, had a hiccup in our implementation dates in South Sudan due to the internal conflict that erupted in December 2013.
Many of the girls and their families are now returning home to Bor from the IDP and refugee camps in order to continue their education. The HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership Program is soon to be implemented at our schools in Bor County. We recently received a report from Daniel, our South Sudan Director, notifying us that our HIV/AIDS program has been approved by the headmasters of Langbaar Modern Secondary School and John Garang Memorial University in Bor February-April 2015! We are now in negotiations with Malek Secondary Academy in Juba.
Abuk, Malek Secondary Academy recent graduate and former Pagook Primary School student whom we are so very proud of, just finished her exit exam as the only girl sitting! She is awaiting results to continue higher education as a nurse. Abuk is excited about being one of the few select girl graduates at Malek. She is not wasting any time being idle though. While waiting for her exit exam results, she is taking a computer course.
We have also heard from two other former PESS students: Pagook Primary School graduate and Malek Secondary Academy student, Anna, whom you might remember from our "Anna Rocks Computer Class!" post. Anna is doing very well as one of the outstanding students at Malek Academy. Her dream after graduation is to continue onto post-secondary studies in Medicine. “I am very happy and feel proud of my accomplishments thus far. I could not have had this life changing opportunity without supporters like you so I can continue my journey of becoming a female doctor in the future. Thank you.”
Akur, former Ayak Anguei Girls Primary School student is in her second year at Malek Academy. She is determined to succeed. “In April of 2014, I joined Malek Academy after the devastating conflict in December of this year destroyed my high school in Bor. I could not have done this without the support of PESS, She’s the First, Global Giving and all of you who continue to believe in me. It is because of you I have hope of making it to university in order to fulfill my dream of becoming a lawyer or an accountant. Because of the hope I now carry, I will make sure that ALL girls should be able to go to school.”
Abuk, Anna and Akur are looking forward to being a part of the implementing leadership for the HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership and Menstrual Management Pad Vocational programs this winter.
So, the girls are becoming the leaders we knew they would become, they are Unleashing the Leaders in themselves with your support!
Thank you again for being there in the midst of the harrowing conflict. The girls know there are girls, women and men out there who care and are so grateful for hanging in there for them!
With peace and gratitude,
Meera Meyer Carol Francis-Rinehart
Dear Friends and Supporters,
As we enjoy the freedom that the summer season brings, seven girls in South Sudan are also experiencing a new freedom – the freedom to return to their studies. Daniel Majok Gai, our South Sudan Country Director, and PESS were sought after by 7 of the 14 displaced high-school aged Ayak Anguei Girls Primary School girls who are being sponsored as part of our Girls Leadership Program. The girls left the IDP and refugee camps to continue their education by taking the risk in finding Daniel. Daniel was also hard at work locating all the sponsored secondary girls. They connected and the girls have returned to their studies at Malek Secondary Academy, which is temporarily being housed in Juba. Daniel remains dedicated to locating the remaining seven girls and ensuring they are safe and free to continue their education.
We are also in the midst of collaborating with a number of wonderful organizations for our Leadership Program. Among these organizations are Seeds of Exchange, She’s the First, Nepal Foundation, Hope for Humanity, and the African Community Center, ECDC. With this partnership, we will be sharing our HIV/AIDS & Menstrual Hygiene Management Pad Vocational Program and our Student Leadership Program with the hopes to educate and empower women and girls all over the world! The feedback from these organizations will allow us to modify and improve the program. Although we were unable to implement the program in South Sudan this year, we are looking forward to hitting the ground running February 2015.
Daniel returned to Colorado for his annual trip this past month and shared with us the aftereffects of the terrible conflict that occurred in Bor where our PESS offices were located in South Sudan. Despite the looting and destruction, he still carried a message of hope that the people of South Sudan are returning, and as before will continue to rebuild the country as they did after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005.
As you enjoy the freedom of the summer days, please think of the girls in Bor and Juba, South Sudan that so desperately want the freedom to be educated and contribute to the future of their country. We at PESS thank you for your support and hope you enjoy your summer season.
With Peace and Gratitude on behalf of the Girls,
Project Education South Sudan
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