South Sudan: Working with vulnerable girls
28 February 2014

A senior woman teacher at St. Mary's Primary School in Yambio, South Sudan guides pupils on the effective use of comfort-kits that are supplied by JRS to support girls education. (Hezekiah Ombiri/JRS)
But my life as a refugee gave me an opportunity to learn and have a great desire to become a teacher especially to work with girls.

Yambio, 28 February 2014 - I am Sr. Elizabeth Waraga, a South Sudanese native of Western Equatoria State and a Missionary Sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary (MSBVM). I was born during war and my lifetime is an experience of war. I have been a refugee in Central Africa Republic (CAR) on different occasions. But my life as a refugee gave me an opportunity to learn and have a great desire to become a teacher especially to work with girls.

While in Khartoum working with young people and groups of women, I developed a great interest to become a secondary school teacher because it was hardly possible to get a female teacher who could guide girl students. Thank God I became a teacher by profession. I have been teaching in church and government schools secondary schools. I am more interested in girl child education and promotion of women; a desire I realised while in Khartoum – Northern Sudan and later on in Yambio. 

I also worked as acting Catholic Diocesan Education Secretary in Yambio for four years before I started working with JRS in 2013 as Education Coordinator. This has also given me more opportunities to interact with many other students in the JRS supported schools.

Conflict brings fear. Unfortunately, when our office was about to close for Christmas cerebrations in December 2013, fighting broke out in Juba on 15th December 2013. The fighting went on in the capital Juba and a few other states. But war did not extend to Western Equatoria state, as it did in the other States of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei. However, the people of Western Equatoria are affected by the effects of the conflict; people fear what is likely to happen if this situation is not properly contained. We then experienced a transport problem as fuel became scarce and prices of market commodities shot up.  

During the Christmas festivities, I remained in Yambio and cerebrated with our communities. As usual this brought me closer to our supported girl students who were eager and yearning to find out whether JRS would continue to support them since war broke out in South Sudan. “Sister has JRS also closed its office here in Yambio because of this ongoing war in South Sudan? If JRS does not come back this year because of the war, we shall suffer because JRS came as a salvation for us girls”. These were the words of Jane* and Agnes* who are JRS supported students.

Uncertainty about the future. On 15th January 2014 Gertrude* and Rosemary*, who are from one of the JRS supported secondary schools, visited me and asked whether the JRS team was resuming activities. Gertrude, who has no parents and is taken care of by her aunt, expressed her helplessness saying, “Eh! God my aunt’s blood-pressure level came down to normal last year because JRS has been giving us girls a lot of support. JRS is paying 75% of my school fees and I get sanitary pads, soap every month which were a burden to my aunt and I.”

“The support also made me keep going to school regularly because missing those comfort kits for me is a big loss and in fact my performance has improved. I did very well in mathematics at the end of 2013, since I joined secondary school I have never scored high marks. It is my being regular for my lessons that had opened my mind to study hard. My aunt was happy with my term two examination results and she keeps on asking me whether JRS is returning? That is why we came to visit you”, she told me.

Impact of JRS support to schools. Recently I met a head teacher from a non JRS supported secondary school. He told me that their school has not registered many girls in the school because JRS supported schools have enrolled more girls due to the support and protection measures put in place to assist girls education such as education seminars and provision of comfort-kits. 

For me the presence of JRS in Western Equatoria to the girls is like the presence of a Verona Missionary Sister who was working with the refugees in CAR and came to rescue us from hunger when our family lived in the refugee camp. For ten days, we ate no food but were surviving on water and small black fruits known as “birikito” in the Zande language.  Sr. Camellia from nowhere came not only to give food to us but also opened the way for us to go to school. 

My experience of working with JRS so far has exposed me more to professional skills and challenges. One of the challenges I face often is when distributing sanitary pads and soap in the targeted schools, girls in other schools that are not supported plead for assistance so as to continue with their education. For me, with such expressions I feel moved but have limited resources to support them. 

People of Western Equatoria generally try to work hard but education for girls remains a challenge as many of our women in the state are illiterate. The support offered by JRS will have a big impact especially in girls’ education.

*Names have been changed to protect identity

Testimony by Sr. Elizabeth Waraga, JRS Yambio Education Coordinator

JRS has operated in Yambio and Nzara counties for less than a year following an assessment in 2012 and consequently needs assessment in February 2013. It identified a great need in terms of teacher training, girls education support, capacity building of school management bodies, including general learning and teaching environment and school infrastructure which are a gap in the provision of education services that JRS has the capability and experience to bridge. JRS continues to respond to the above educational needs.