Hungry to Learn
By: Karen Sherman, Former Women for Women International staff member
It’s mango season in Yei. After weeks of heavy downpours, the ripe, delicious fruit is literally falling off the trees, providing a ready, nutritious source of food and income. Pods of women gather the fallen fruit to sell in the marketplace or roadside, trying to earn extra cash while the abundance lasts. This month only, mangos saturate the market and diet, helping to feed some of the undernourished in this food-insecure region.
Their hunger is not only for food, but a deep and abiding hunger for learning. Women in particular have missed out on a formal education. It was thwarted for many reasons: persistent war, conflict and displacement over many years; the dominance of Islamic ideology under one Sudan that discouraged efforts to empower and educate women; traditional norms and values regarding girls’ education, seen more as a benefit to the prospective husband’s family rather than her own and thus unworthy of the investment.
Independence has brought new educational opportunities for women and girls, but not nearly enough to satisfy the pent up need and demand. According to the South Sudan Consolidated Appeal for 2013 developed by the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the country ranks at the bottom of global education indicators, with only 44% of children enrolled in primary school. The percentages are even worse for girls, especially for school completion. Yei Town Payam recorded a total of 2,362 children who sat for primary seven exams in 2012, only 33% of whom were girls. Lack of income, early marriages and a poor enabling environment for education were cited for the high incidences of school drop-outs.
In the Yei River County where Women for Women International recently launched its program, the desire for training and education is high. In Payawa Boma, 1,000 women turned up at our first recruitment session, though we could only enroll 100 due to the lack of available sponsors. In Longamere Boma, over 500 women vied for the 100 slots. Chiefs in each Boma helped to select the neediest or excluded women but in reality, all of the women were desperate and eager for training. A total of 300 women were enrolled in the initial group of participants.
Life skills training commenced this week for six groups of 25 women. Attendance exceeded 100%, as women yet to be enrolled in the program turned up at some of the training sites hoping to join. One woman was so eager she sat at the window for the entire two hour introductory session just to listen in. Support from local leadership was also strong; the chiefs stopped by to give opening remarks, the community donated training venues so women would have a safe environment in which to learn. The women were excited to receive their ID cards and begin to connect with their sisters in the U.S.
“I was supposed to be in class,” says Betty Sandy Moses, one of the new program participants. The war stopped her education at primary 5. With two children of her own now, Betty wants to learn about business so she can send her children to school and give them the education that she missed. Joyce Jamba, another participant, has eight children but can only afford to send four of them to school. A widow whose husband died early, Joyce is most interested in training on health and stress management and will use the monthly training stipend to pay school fees for her children, 35 SSP per child per term or over 100 SSP a year for uniforms, supplies and materials. The fees represent a daunting amount of money given women’s average daily income of just 2.4 SSP. The ability to earn and sustain an income, one of the key program outcomes, will be critical to keeping the children in school.
As committed as the women are to educating their children, it is clear they have yet to give up on their own dreams of an education. They expressed hope that Women for Women International’s program would serve as the primary and secondary schooling they never received, effectively empowering both generations.
The Sustaining an Income module is designed to help women overcome stereotypes and inequities that prevent them from gaining economic self-sufficiency. Topics address the benefits of savings, building assets, managing household finances, and the types of income generation opportunities available.
Topics Addressed Include:
- The Value of Women’s Work: program participants shared their experiences about the social and economic value of women’s work. Participants learned about different kinds of work and discussed strategies to share productive and reproductive work responsibilities with family members.
- The Gender Division of Labor: participants learned strategies to balance their productive, reproductive, and community management responsibilities.
- Achieving Work-Life Balance: participants shared ideas on how to manage their time and activities while still ensuring time for rest and leisure.
- Household Financial Management: program participants were introduced to concepts of organizing and controlling household resources, including basic concepts on managing spending, increasing income, and saving.
- Household Savings: Women learned that saving regularly is the most important thing they can do to improve their financial situation. Women learned different ways to save and how saving regularly will help them reach their goals.
- Income Generation Opportunities: program participants were introduced to basic concepts involved in earning a living. The session encouraged women to make the most of upcoming vocational business and skills training, and discussed ways to sustain income through self-employment, employment, and group business.
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