In Unity State, South Sudan, a region greatly affected by war and where our Raising South Sudan project concentrates, only one in ten children has attended a permanent primary school and has access to latrines and clean water. It's estimated that 2% of boys and 1% of girls graduate from primary school simply because no permanent schools have existed. More than 90% of adults in the region can't read.
Today's poverty and education challenges in South Sudan can be traced to the effects of two civil wars in Sudan. The first lasted from 1955 to 1972, with southern Sudan demanding representation and more autonomy from the North. The agreement that ended the war failed to create peace, and the Second Sudanese Civil War lasted from 1983 to 2005. Roughly two million people died from conflict, famine and disease. Four million experienced displacement.
Numerous southern Sudanese villages were destroyed. Nearly 30,000 boys began a 1,000-mile walk to the first of three refugee camps where survivors spent their childhoods. They were dubbed the Lost Boys of Sudan. In 2001, about 3,800 former Lost Boys were invited to come to the U.S. and become citizens. In July 2011, South Sudan achieved independence and became the newest country in the world.
Former Lost Boys of Sudan and Raising South Sudan inspirations James "Lubo" Mijak and Ngor Kur Mayol dreamed of one day returning to help. They visited their home villages in 2007 for the first time in 20 years. Both young men agreed to become ambassadors for their villages and the desire for education.
In 2010, they agreed to work together as a team with a dream of constructing one permanent primary school in each of their home villages, Nyarweng and Aliap respectively. They imagined both schools becoming models of educational and community development.
In 2013, the Raising South Sudan project opened the doors on the first model permanent primary school in Lubo's village of Nyarweng. The school has 4 classrooms, teacher accommodations, offices, food storage, latrines and clean water. As many as 150 students attend the school, ranging from ages 5 to 20, in Grades 1 through 5. In January 2014, the community will come together for a festival and forum to support teachers and the PTA to achieve sustainable school operations.
Research shows that education helps foster peace and stability. In South Sudan's challenged post-conflict economy, grass-roots nonprofit projects are essential for building schools and training teachers in rural communities. An investment in the Raising South Sudan style of collaboration creates potential for model projects that can be shared across South Sudan.
In addition to supporting education and literacy programs in Nyarweng and Aliap, the Raising South Sudan project is cooperating and sharing ideas with other former Lost Boys. In Unity State, this includes providing pre-loaded Kindles and a generator to the Gumriak orphanage and school established by nonprofit SAORO, as well as learning from and collaborating with nonprofit Rebuild Sudan on their SEED award-winning school design.
Former Lost Boys James Lubo Mijak and Ngor Kur Mayol, visionaries for the Raising South Sudan project, remain key catalysts and inspirations. Lubo now lives in South Sudan, working as a field coordinator in community development for an oil company. He visits the Nyarweng school site almost monthly. In 2014, Ngor will serve as a project manager in South Sudan during the planning phase for the school that will be built in his home village of Aliap (target 2015).
A few special people serve as volunteer catalysts, the links between the project, the people who contribute, and work done in-country. Phillips Bragg, resident of Charlotte, NC, and long-time friend to Lubo, has learned much about the history, geography and needs of South Sudan. In Spring 2013, he traveled to South Sudan to facilitate borehole completion and explore future small-scale farming opportunities. Karen Puckett is a school media specialist in Salisbury, NC. In Summer 2013, Karen traveled to South Sudan again for site visits at Gumriak Orphanage and the new permanent primary school in Nyarweng. Judy Maves, who befriended many former Lost Boys of Sudan in Atlanta and now lives in Kenya, has been a tremendous advisor and friend.