“I believe one day a woman will lead South Sudan,” says Grace, a 14-year-old student. She adds, “Thus, we help to create awareness and improve the number of girls attending school.”
Last year before the coronavirus pandemic was declared, 300 girls received bicycles in Yambio County in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State, a part of the Bike for Girls Project of World Vision United States (US) Gift Catalogue.
The initiative encouraged them to go to school and also boosted their efforts to raise awareness on many issues like gender-based violence, child marriage and promote education among children and youth.
Grace, also the chairperson of Bright Future Girls, adds, “The bicycles allowed us to reach remote communities to raise awareness on many issues. Before, we used to walk for hours, brave bad weather and can only cover short distances closer to Yambio.”
“With the continuous campaign, the enrolment of girls has increased in our school from 379 to 782. This gives me hope because it shows how our efforts can influence the communities. This is just for four months. Imagine how many girls we can protect and bring to school in two years or more,” she declares.
To my fellow girls, having given birth is not the end of the world. Being neglected or discouraged by your family does not mean you have to give up your dream in life.
A UN report last year indicates that some 65 per cent of women and girls have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, and some 51 per cent have suffered intimate partner violence. Further, the majority of girls and women experience sexual violence for the first time under the age of 18.
Enid Ocaya, World Vision’s Zonal Program Manager says, “This year, as we campaign on 16 days of Activism against gender-based violence, let us remember the girls in our community who through no fault of their own due to conflict, were generally exposed to sexual and other forms of violence.”
Some of the young mothers shared how they lost interest in going back to school because of the demeaning names the community often call them after having a child. This affects them psychologically and reduces their motivation to rejoin or stay in school to learn.
Ocaya continues, “These girls were supported with bicycles not only to ease their movement in the community to access services on time, but to be used to do activities that contribute to their household income. We have seen that with the appropriate support and skills, young mothers can go back to school and become effective in their education.”
“Education does not matter whether you are young or old. It is for everyone”, Grace adds and continues that, “We support the young mothers to trust and believe in themselves despite what the community label them. This should not stop them from learning.”
A persistent advocate, Grace always cautioned the girls she talked to never to succumb to negative peer pressure but should always surround themselves with people who motivate them to prioritize education for a better future.
“To my fellow girls, having given birth is not the end of the world. Being neglected or discouraged by your family does not mean you have to give up your dream in life. Find a way who can support you to go back to school so that you and the child will have a better future”, she says.
Grace expressed gratitude for the support World Vision has given to them, “When World Vision provided us with bicycles, it became convenient for us to reach distant communities. We also benefit from the staff who mentor and train us.”
She says, “For us to see a better South Sudan, we need to go to school because education is the only way to develop our country. We have to sacrifice going to school and support other girls. Seeing a teenager carry a child is so painful when they are supposed to be in school.
Malish Clement, Protection Coordinator says, “COVID-19 has affected the livelihood of many families and as such, some children engaged in child labor or jobs to provide for their families which exposed them to the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.”
He adds, “World Vision conducts awareness raising through door to door campaigns and discussions at the nutrition centers to help prevent exploitation of girls, women and all the children. Our team also does case management for those exposed to abuse especially during this coronavirus pandemic.”
“Some of the young mothers who got the bicycles managed to care for their children as well as participate in livelihood activities that can help secure both their future and their children’s”, Ocaya concludes.
Story and photos by Scovia Faida Charles Duku, Communications Coordinator