In South Sudan, breaking down barriers to girls' education
By Jairus Ligoo
An out-of-school girl in South Sudan finds the chance for new opportunity and a new future through a UNICEF-supported vocational training programme.
KAPOETA SOUTH COUNTRY, South Sudan, 15 December 2014 – It’s 7 a.m. on a cool and calm morning, and a young, shy-looking Natabo Gabriel is at the Kapoeta Youth Vocational Training Centre, in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria State. The day has barely begun, but she is certain it is her day and no one can take away her joy.
Natabo is not only the youngest in her class – she is also one of the few girls. At only 13 years of age, and without any formal education, she is accomplishing what many girls from her community may never achieve.
Most communities in Kapoeta South County are made up of pastoralists, whose livelihoods depend on livestock rearing. Cattle is a status symbol, and tradition dictates that families must have cattle to be able to meet dowry demands, which can at times range up to fifty herds of cattle.
In these communities, girls are married off early. Child marriage, with girl brides married to often much older men, is a common practice. It affects girls’ development and has further negative effects on their education, health and physical safety.
Natabo comes from a family of eight siblings, two of whom have died. Her elder sister, who is 15 years old and has just been married, is one of the few girls in her community who has managed to complete a course that can help her to develop a career.
Giving girls opportunities
After a volley of speeches from participating local community leaders and performances by her classmates and youth from her community, Natabo’s name is finally called out. Despite the scorching afternoon sun, the crowd at the ceremony cannot contain their excitement. Ululations and loud whistling fill the air as Natabo rushes to the dais. Her steps say it all: She is no longer the shy girl that she was in the morning.
She gracefully receives her certificate and displays it to the photographers, smiling and shouting, “Arumor, alakara nooi!” (I did it!).
When asked about her future plans, she says, “I intend to use my skills to develop myself and support our family. Look at what I made using the skills I gained from the centre.” She proudly shows off the long, elegant skirt she is wearing for her auspicious day.
Natabo has a special message for her community as she leaves the dais: “I hope that child marriage in my community stops, so that other girls can have a similar opportunity to develop themselves.”
Education is critical
Dorcas Otim, the tailoring facilitator at the vocational youth centre, strongly supports Natabo’s vision. “We have to encourage girls, especially those out of school, and ensure that alongside acquisition of a vocational skill they can also learn literacy and numeracy skills,” she says.
Through a local partnership between UNICEF and PLAN International, Natabo is among 102 technical and vocational education students graduating today as part of a UNICEF-supported youth programme implemented in Eastern Equatoria. Since 2012, 412 out-of-school youth have benefited from the programme – among them 207 girls.
“The education of girls is critical if South Sudan is to see its young population develop and prosper,” says Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. “It is a key step in tackling child marriage and reducing the high maternal mortality rate in South Sudan.”
Through the contributions of the Government of Canada, UNICEF and its partners are also supporting the development of out-of-school adolescents and youth to reach and fulfil their potential, through its Youth LEAD programme (Leadership, Empowerment, Advocacy and Development).