Field Report from Sudan Co-Director Lauren Servin:
While sitting in Kampala the morning before a meeting with our NESEI teachers, a girl approached me after hearing me speaking the local Sudan Arabic on the phone. She asked me if I was working in Sudan and I told her that I work for an organization that is building secondary schools in Southern Sudan. She told me that she was going to secondary school in the same county where we are building the NESEI school. I was very interested to hear this as the rate of attendance of girls in secondary school in this county as in most of Southern Sudan is extremely low. It has been estimated that less than 1% of all girls graduate from secondary school.
The name of this young lady is Esther. She is now 18 years old and is about to begin Senior - Four. She finished her Primary School in Uganda where she was living with her uncle. However, when he passed away, she had to move back to Sudan as this was where her parents were residing. When she arrived home her father told her: "I can't pay for your school fees, so it is time for you to get married." At this time she was no more than 12 years old and she was strong enough to refuse this command by her parents. She decided that she would work in the town and pay for her school fees on her own. Her school fees, which were around thirty-five Sudanese pounds, is less than 15 USD per term, but is a lot of money to earn. She struggled to earn this money by washing clothes and doing other small jobs of this sort. After two years of being in Sudan with no school, she was able to pay for her senior 1 and has continued to pay now for herself up to senior four.
This is a very heroic story that is not uncommon to many young Sudanese women. The desire for education is there and the spirit of hard work to gain it is growing. I am glad that we as NESEI can support these young women in their struggle to make their own choices and to grow beyond economic constraints and cultural repercussions of their parents. Early Marriage is more of an act of desperate economic situations, rather than that of cultural orientation. We hope that we will be able to support more girls like Esther to not have to enter unwillingly into early marriage, and that we can be of assistance so they can spend their adolescence in school, rather than washing clothes. Esther still has three more years of secondary school to go. Due to finances she will try to complete a computer course rather than her A level (the last two years of secondary school) And her dream of University, however strong it is in her mind, is discouragingly distant due to a lack of funds.