Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mary's Story

This is a picture of Mary, who recently participated in NESEI’s radio debate program. During the debate discussions, Mary was quick to voice her opinion and build strong arguments to help her team. Smiling and smart, she was confident and persuasive in the radio booth, never shying away from stating her points with precision and eloquence. So, it came at no surprise when the young men and women who participated with her in the program voted her “best speaker”.

What’s surprising is how Mary got to the radio program that day.

Mary attends a high school on the outskirts of Yei Town, on a major road with an end point at the Ugandan border. She lives in a small village off another major road that leads out of town, in the opposite direction. Anyone who has visited Yei before is familiar with these two roads. Even with 4 Wheel Drive vehicles it can be slow and challenging to navigate between these veins of red dirt that crisscross downtown Yei. Every morning, Mary begins walking on one of these roads and 10 miles later she arrives at school.

To get to school on time, Mary wakes up long before dawn to begin her journey at 5am. She leaves the mud hut she shares with her family and follows a small footpath that zigzags through tall blades of grass and teak trees. After nearly a mile, the path joins the main road, which is peppered with growing potholes and is calm in the pre-dawn quiet. In a few hours, this road will be congested with motorbikes and women trekking between villages with water and firewood balanced on their heads. The only traffic on the road at dawn is Mary and a few of her classmates.

As the morning sun begins to grow hot, Mary arrives at campus. Her school resembles that of many schools in Sudan. Some buildings lack roofs, secure walls, desks or blackboards. Hundreds of students huddle in classrooms whose mud and stick walls shed spider-webbed light across their crisp school uniforms. Mary makes her journey to this humble school each day because education is a priority to her. Twenty miles a day is a small price for a high school education that can allow her to better provide for her family and community.

Each year, Mary walks the distance between New York and Los Angeles- twice. But she doesn’t have to. For around the same cost of renting a car for a weekend road trip, you could help Mary attend a quality girls’ boarding school just outside her village for an entire year. Instead of spending her spare time walking, she could spend it studying. You can help girls like Mary by supporting the Girls Rising Campaign, which provides financial support and educational programs to young women in Sudan. It doesn’t take much to make a major difference in the life of a girl like Mary.

Sometimes that difference can be measured in miles.

In the photo: Mary stands proud and smiling, with her village as her background.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Grace helps her family

Grace John arrived at NESEI’s school in May 2008, along with her 75 new classmates. Before coming to NESEI’s school, Grace had attended an Arabic pattern primary school and spoke no English. Her parents, who also don’t speak English, wanted their daughter to learn English and about healthcare, so that she would have a better chance of getting a job. By January 2009, after two terms at NESEI’s school, Grace is almost fluent in English, and has learned valuable agriculture and health skills. Here is an excerpt from an interview a NESEI staff member had with Grace and her mother at their home in Juba, Sudan on Jan. 26, 2009. Grace helped interpret for her mother during this interview, although her mother could understand a few sentences from the English Grace has already taught her.

-What changes have you noticed in your daughter since she enrolled in NESEI School?
Grace’s mother: English! Thank you so much NESEI school. My daughter speaks English now and she has also taught me and her little sisters. Grace is also more responsible now [and] is more focused in her daily life and house chores.

-What other things do you notice are different in your daughter Grace since she joined the NESEI School?

Grace’s mother: Grace’s health has improved because she is attending a health science school (smiles)Even at home now she cleans our compound and always tries to keep everyone clean especially the young ones.
Grace: I have learned over the past year in my health science courses that a person is prone to many diseases if they don’t keep their environment or themselves clean. So I try to keep our house clean.

-What are some of the lessons you have learned during your past year at the NESEI School that you have brought home back with you?
Grace: English: I teach it to my mother and my little sisters. First aid: I have taught my mother about first aid. Now she knows what to do if an accident happened at home where there is no doctor. Agriculture: From my agriculture classes, I now show my grandmother and neighbors how to plant things like tomatoes and vegetables and taking good care of them for better yields. Some people even come to me asking for advice!

-What are your career plans after the NESEI School?
Grace: I intend to continue up to college to become a doctor or health professional. Why?Because I have the opportunity to develop on the health skills I am getting at NESEI’s school. But most importantly because there is a need for health professionals in S. Sudan and there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the health sector.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First year at NESEI's school a huge success

The final academic term at NESEI’s school in Sudan has come to a close, after an incredibly successful first year. In Sudan, unlike America, the official school year ends in December for the holidays.

Prior to the break, students worked hard to prepare for their final exams, studying in groups in the afternoon shade or asking their teachers questions outside of class time. After the exams had been graded, the 10 highest academic achievers of the year were awarded for their efforts with a special assembly, attended by students and staff. When the commotion of exams and award ceremonies subsided, students packed many of their belongings and returned to their families for the long break. (Above, five of the students who received academic merit awards smile for the camera with Headmistress Margaret Juan and Site Manager Colin Nelsen.)

It was an emotional departure for all of the students and NESEI staff, with the girls saying tearful goodbyes to their friends and teachers. For many students, this will be the first time they will have seen their families since arriving at the school in May. But it was evident from all of the shared hugs and tears that many students felt they were leaving another family at the school.

“The students were very excited to be going home, but most of them cried as they hugged their friends,” said Communications and Recruitment Officer Diane Birungi. “They all promised to return to school next year.”

Students took their final exams in 11 subjects, including English, history, math, health sciences, agriculture, biology, and business studies. After testing was completed, the students prepared to leave the campus. Those who live nearby were picked up at the campus by their parents and relatives, and taken home to the surrounding communities.

The students who live farther away, and who received scholarships from Winrock International to attend NESEI’s school, traveled on a chartered, secure plane, paid for by Winrock, to their homes in Aweil, Abyei, and Wau, all north of Yei.

The first academic year was a major success for NESEI’s first school, given the enthusiasm and effort of its 75 young scholars. All of the young women who attended NESEI’s school benefited from the Girls Rising Campaign, which provided important things like financial aid, classroom supplies, school uniforms, healthcare coverage, and three hot meals a day to every student. This important campaign allowed students to focus on their studies in a secure and supportive environment, instead of worrying about how to finance their education or having enough to eat. NESEI intends to continue this vital campaign in 2009, given its positive impact in the school’s first year.

The students will return to school for the second academic year in the spring. NESEI intends to increase student enrollment in 2009, to help more young women in need of a secondary education.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Update on the NESEI School

NESEI's school has continued to be a huge success, inside and outside the classroom. See below for some updates on the school's progress and new programs and accomplishments!

-The campus farm has been hugely successful. It produces a cornucopia of fresh, nutritious foods, including beans, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, watermelon, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and sugarcane! This bounty has helped sustain our school and the local community.

-Student council officials were elected late this summer, allowing students to practice campus diplomacy and to hone their leadership skills.

-Students will take their final exams beginning Nov. 18. They will be tested in subjects that include English, biology, chemistry, health science, and math. The end of exams will mark the conclusion of the school's first year! It is incredible how time has flown by!

-Our health science fellows, Delia and Kaitlyn have led several successful community health workshops for students, including lessons on women's and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention. The workshops have been very well received by the students.

-A service learning initiative that has been established allows students to participate in beautifying the campus and learning about agriculture management, through participation of farm projects. Students have enjoyed expanding their skills out of the classroom through this unique program.

-Solar powered radios were donated by The Carter Center, allowing students to listen to the news and connect to the world.

-Three laptops have been donated to the "Laptops for Learning" campaign since it was launched. These laptops are providing essential help to the school administration and allow students to improve their understanding of computer technology. SEVEN more laptops are needed before January for the campus computer lab!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Remember Neema?, an organization that produces stories about youth from around the world overcoming hardships and sharing life's lessons, is publishing an essay about Neema Nyoka, a NESEI student. As you may remember, back when Neema was an applicant to our school, we told you a story about her life. Now, You Move Me has written an update, in Neema's voice. The article will be shared with students at schools across the U.S., with the intention of helping them get involved with NESEI's efforts. Please enjoy this article, whose link is below, and check out the good work that You Move Me is doing!

"A Guarantee from Sudan"
Neema, age 18, Sudan - October 28, 2008

We used to play “family” with my friends in the backyard of my grandmother’s house. Playing family is the most common children’s game in Africa. We used to pretend that we were in a happy family with both a mother and father: the ideal family. I like happy families. The father would go to work in town and the mother (often played by me) would stay home to cook and take care of the children. That game is my favorite childhood memory. It was my way of having a real family, and it still is.

My name is Neema. I am an 18-year-old girl from southern Sudan who has known many challenges. My father died 17 years ago, when I was only a baby, and my mother lived until I was 10 years old. I have also known many people who have died from AIDS. It hurts to watch your loved ones being eaten away by the monster AIDS. I had to move to the village with my grandmother after my mother died. Then, when it came time to start school, I moved again to a different town where I stayed with my step-mother and step-father.

At their house I had to learn to do all the household chores and to look after my 1 year old step-sister. The hardest chore was to carry water. My step-father owned a brick-making business, and water was needed to make the bricks. I used to carry water on my head all day from the river, which was three miles away. It was very challenging, but I managed.

I was driven to work hard because I wanted to stay in school. School is not free here, and I struggled to pay the fees. My step-parents did not want to pay the fees because my step-mother said it was useless for girls to get an education. But I was determined to stay in school, so I earned my own tuition by carrying water for the brick-makers on Saturdays and Sundays. It takes about 12 buckets to fill one drum of water, and I earned $2 for every drum of water I filled.

I carried so many buckets. So many heavy buckets.

But now, my friends, I am very happy to tell you that I no longer carry water to go to school. I have earned a scholarship to attend a high school built by the New Sudan Education Initiative (NESEI), and I now spend my weekends working on my studies instead of carrying water in the hot sun. Because of these efforts, I am the top-ranked student at the school and also the student body president.

My best subject is mathematics. I think math is easy, although a lot of my friends don’t agree. Math makes me think and helps me find solutions in real life, as math is all about finding solutions. I like thinking a lot. I also enjoy reading story books. My favorite of all time is Cinderella. I love that story because it shows that no matter how much one suffers, one can succeed.

That is why education is the most important thing in my life. I have been given the opportunity to empower myself with knowledge which will help me empower others when I share it. Education is paving a way for me to be able to help my family with the basic needs in life. I want to become an accountant to help people in southern Sudan with their financial problems and help them start small businesses.
Above all, I want to help the needy, the suffering, and especially the orphans and widows because I have seen these things at a very young age. I watched my mother struggle so much as a widow and it broke my heart. I want to be able to help orphans and widows, and that is why I study so hard. In life I am inspired by the orphans and the widows.

If we want to make the world a better place for them – and for everyone – we will need more love and unity. I have always believed that if people in the whole world loved each other there would be no war, no hatred, no fighting or genocide in Darfur. And we must care for children, because they are the keepers of tomorrow’s world. I want to give my children the best education imaginable. Love guarantees all these things.

Neema earned her scholarship through the New Sudan Education Initiative (NESEI), a US-based non-profit founded by Sudanese refugees that is building high schools in Sudan. If you, your classmates, or your whole school would like to help provide a scholarship for a girl like Neema, please visit to learn how.

Discussion questions:

1. What are some things for which you have had to work very hard in your own life? How were your efforts similar to Neema’s efforts? How were they different?

2. If you had to earn your own tuition to go to school, would you be willing to spend your weekends carrying water?

3. Neema says she especially wants to help orphans and widows because of her personal experiences. Are you motivated by any personal experiences of your own?

4. Neema says that education is “paving a way” for her to help meet life’s basic needs. What are the various ways in education can help to overcome poverty?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Update on NESEI School

A Campus Progress Report:
The students at NESEI's school, near Yei, Sudan have been very busy in the months following the school's opening in May.  Classes started early in June and mid-term exams were given in late July, in both English and math. Library books have been donated by UNHCR, allowing students to choose from reading materials other than their basic school text books. Several campus clubs have been initiated, including a debate club, a news desk, and a choir. A campus-wide bonfire was held in early July, at which students danced, sang, and read a poem to the assembled NESEI audience. Corn that had been grown at the NESEI campus was eaten at the bonfire, to celebrate a good harvest. 

NESEI students participated in several live videoconferences with U.S. students, thanks to their access to Skype technology. During the skype chat, NESEI's students danced and sang, and spoke to the U.S. students about their school. NESEI is planning on implementing skype calls to U.S. schools into their education program in Sudan, allowing students in Sudan to better understand computer technology, and have more opportunities to directly connect with people of other cultures. 

In July, NESEI worked with Winrock International to bring 10 girls from the conflicted region of Abyei, and 18 from Bahr al Ghazal to the NESEI school. The students' tuition and other 
fees have been covered by Winrock until the girls graduate from NESEI's secondary program. NESEI hopes to accept more students who have received Winrock scholarships as the school's facilities can be expanded. Currently, the school has immediate need for support to build a girls' dorm, to allow more students to enroll. There are currently 75 female students attending the school. 

The campus medical clinic has opened and a certified nurse now serves as a teacher and health provider to the campus community. Below, she is pictured attending to a site staff member. The school farm continues to thrive, producing food that is feeding the campus community, and
excess yield that has been sold to local businesses and markets.