“I grew up believing that girls are born to make their parents proud through marriage”, Ajak Akoc, 23, says. South Sudan girls, especially in remote areas, still face a great deal of opposition in getting educated.
Their value is often measured on how many cattle they can raise for her family through the dowry system. Ajak, now a mother of three, realized the importance of finishing school and is now in primary six. “Growing up I was not told of this”, she shares.
She said she used to go to school but thought her future depended in marrying well and making my family proud of it. She got married at 15. After having her second child, she realized was at an age when she was supposed to be in school.
“One day they visited me in the village and I saw how they were doing well. I regretted my decision to marry early, and accepted my fate thinking it was too late for me”, she adds.
It was at this point in Ajak’s life when World Vision’s Multi-Year Resilience Program (MYRP) funded by United Nation’s Education Cannot Wait (ECW) was introduced in Warrap State.
The program established a child protection help desk in eight schools in the state to support children who are at risk of abuse, exploitation, violence or others whose well-being are threatened.
Project Manager James Ring Ring shares, “The child protection help desk oversees issues faced by the children in the community. We trained the teachers on psycho-social support and counselling as they meet these children every day.”
The lean season, July to August, is the time most girls are forced into marriage as people suffer from hunger. The program is effective in saving many girls from early marriage.
Awac Achiul, 23, one of the teachers in a primary school, says, “If not for the support of many people, I would not have completed my studies and become a teacher”, she says, adding that she is excited to assist her community.
Ajok learned of World Vision’s program and expressed her interest. She shares, “It was difficult at first to convince my husband, even my parents, to allow me to go back to school. I persisted until they allowed me.”
“For the first time, I feel fulfilled doing something for myself. I am determined to complete my secondary level and find a way to proceed to university. I plan to support my children go to school, too”, Ajok adds with determination.
At present, 579 young mothers and 48 displaced children due to conflict were supported by the program to study for free. Asunta, 15, and now in primary five, was among the displaced children and got separated from her family.
“I am not sure how long this support will last but I am beyond excited to be in school and study for free. I appreciate the support of this program not only for me but for all the other children”, Asunta says.
One of the girls, Elizabeth, 17, was saved from forced child marriage in 2019. “My father told me to prepare for marriage in two weeks’ time. I cried every night. I was rescued by the program through Achiul and continued studying”, she shares.
Achiul shares, “The lean season, July to August, is the time most girls are forced into marriage as people suffer from hunger. The program is effective in saving many girls from early marriage. There is a need to continue advocating for children’s rights in South Sudan’s communities.”
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Story and photos by Scovia Faida Charles Duku, Communications Coordinator