Preparing tomorrow’s South Sudanese leaders through education and local engagement.
From left to right: Ngor Abiar (brother of Daniel Gai), Jim Broyles (Board), Dinah Frey (Board), Melody Delaney (Development Director), Lee Ann Huntington (Board), Lily Ribeiro (Board), Daniel Gai (Executive Director), Jessica Murison (Board), Ray Stranske (Board) and Ken Scott (Board).
Not pictured: Kathleen Adamson (Board)
Our Mission: Preparing young women to be tomorrow's South Sudanese leaders by mobilizing resources and communities for girls' education.
On July 9, 2011, with significant backing from the United States, South Sudan became independent of Sudan and sought its future as the newest country - and newest democracy - in the world. This happy moment followed decades of civil war with the former dominant north that killed over two million people, mostly civilian black African southerners. The euphoria was short-lived, however. Sparked by a rift between South Sudan’s new leaders, a conflict starting in late 2013 has resulted in the deaths of another 400,000 South Sudanese. This civil war has been characterized by horrific civilian murder and gender-based violence. The economic costs include rampant inflation, loss of already sparse school systems and non-payment of public school teachers. While, as of May 2020, the violence has been significantly reduced pursuant to a peace agreement between the warring leaders, the actual steps taken towards the agreed-upon power sharing structure have been extremely tentative.
Even before the latest conflict, South Sudan was among the least developed countries in the world. Its lack of infrastructure - roads, communications, schools, medical systems - is almost unimaginable, even in contrast to other “third world” countries, such as Kenya or Nepal. UNESCO 2018 statistics pegged the total illiteracy rate in South Sudan among the four highest in the world. South Sudan also has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, according to the 2019-2020 report of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (ranking 163 out of 167); the study found that the average adult South Sudanese woman had only 4 years of education.
"The hope for [South] Sudan lies in the young people who want a life of peace, of opportunity to go to school, to work, to provide for their families and to see their country thrive…."Daniel Majok Gai, PESS Executive Director
In examining options in forwarding the educational mission of PESS under current conditions in South Sudan, PESS has concluded that it can create its biggest impact by investing in individuals, rather than in bricks and mortar. While statistics on the education needs in South Sudan are sparse, the South Sudanese Ministry of Education has released figures showing that only a small fraction of the youth population is reaching secondary school (less than 8%) and only about one third of these students are girls. The Ministry reports that in 2018, there were only 5,272 girls remaining in the last year of secondary school - representing a female drop-out rate from the first year of primary school of almost 97%. Echoing broad reporting, Daniel has told the Board of the intense cultural pressures on South Sudanese girls to do domestic chores, rather than go to school, as well as of the bride price system that strongly encourages desperate families to agree to early marriage for their daughters in exchange for a payment of cows. In choosing to focus on the lack of secondary opportunities for South Sudanese girls, PESS has also considered the widespread evidence that, while it may not be a silver bullet educating girls in developing nations stimulates economic growth and fosters stability. See Half The Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (2009).
The program which Daniel and the PESS Board are using to support secondary school level girls includes identifying committed girls from families in need and paying their tuition at one of the few functioning schools in the region; these are private schools, as the public school system is currently in disarray. Perhaps just as important, PESS is supporting its girl scholars by providing after school tutoring, peer-to-peer group support meetings, global awareness programs and other skills training (such as in computer literacy). This combined approach is phenomenally successful. Over 90% of PESS’s girl scholars are finishing high school and passing the national exams. PESS’s program is so popular that over 100 families are on a waiting list in hopes that their girls can join the program.
PESS has always lived its philosophy that real democratic, educational and economic progress requires empowerment of the South Sudanese themselves. Since its founding fifteen years ago, PESS has thereby achieved seemingly impossible results in an undeveloped rural region of one of the world’s most undeveloped countries. Now is the time to leverage PESS’s experience with, and leadership by, the South Sudanese themselves to grow the educated and globally aware individuals who will promote widespread education and economic growth in the world’s newest country. We are only limited by our funding in providing education for young women who are hungry - not only make a better life for themselves - but to create a better country for their fellow South Sudanese.