We believe in education.
In 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan after two decades of civil war. During this conflict, many schools were destroyed: according to UNICEF, more than half of South Sudanese primary and lower secondary school-age children are not attending school. The country has a literacy rate of 27 percent, which is one of the lowest in the world.
In addition to the feeble education system, South Sudan faces many other challenges. In 2013, South Sudan became embroiled in another civil war. The South Sudanese people are composed of 64 different ethnic tribes, some of which are fighting one another. Since 2013, more that 3.6 million South Sudanese have been displaced and up to 300,000 estimated to have been killed as a result of ethnic violence. Without access to education, many South Sudanese youth are more likely to engage in and perpetuate the cycle of ethnic violence.
Education Bridge is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that builds and operates schools in South Sudan. As an organization, our mission is to create flourishing South Sudanese communities through holistic education and peacebuilding. This mission is reflected in our two primary goals:
Our first goal is to increase access to quality secondary education in South Sudan. In particular, we focus on helping girls attend school in a country where child marriage is common and the female literacy rate is 16 percent. To achieve this goal, we build and operate schools across the country, and provide scholarships to girls and students with financial needs. In February 2017, we opened our first school in Bor.
Our second goal is to help students develop peace-building skills. We hope to help alleviate ethnic conflict among younger generations in South Sudan by using our peace-building curriculum and also by creating diverse school communities, where students from different ethnic groups can safely interact with one another.
Ethnic violence is threatening to tear the country apart, yet there is little being done to address the root causes. We are one of the only education providers in South Sudan that focus on helping students develop peacebuilding skills. No public schools have adopted peacebuilding curriculums.
In South Sudan, public schools often face the problem of teacher absenteeism (where teachers are chronically absent from school) because the government delays payment of teacher wages. Education Bridge is privately run to ensure that our teachers are paid on time each month.
I grew up just outside the town of Bor, South Sudan, and I started primary school in 2000. At the time, many schools had been destroyed by the civil war, and the closest school was an hour away. In 2005, I left home in order to attend secondary school in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. I later had the opportunity to attend African Leadership Academy and the University of Notre Dame. It was through these experiences that I recognized the power of education.
But the conflict in South Sudan cannot be solved by education alone. South Sudan has a long history of ethnic violence. The interactions we foster in our school help break stereotypes that fuel this ethnic conflict. Short term, our hope is to create a generation of peacemakers: people to challenge the dominant biased narrative. We want to create a South Sudan that finds pride in its diversity.