Empowering education in South Sudan: AVSI’s comprehensive initiatives for lasting impact

Navigating humanitarian challenges, transforming education in remote regions, and fostering teacher and learner well-being and promoting sustainable practices

Children in South sudan

Threats to education amidst humanitarian and social challenges

South Sudan is facing a severe humanitarian emergency, affecting over 9.4 million people, including 5 million children. Years of civil war, political instability, and inter-ethnic conflicts have disrupted the foundations of lasting peace.

The country is also grappling with the adverse impacts of climate change, marked by alternating floods and droughts, significantly affecting agriculture, the primary source of livelihood along with livestock.

The crisis also given rise to negative survival strategies such as early/forced marriages, forced school dropouts leading to child labor in subsistence activities. State investment in essential services is minimal, resulting in low access to basic services, particularly education. Humanitarian Needs Overview 2023 data indicates that approximately 65% of an estimated 2.8 million school-aged children are out of school, with even lower rates for girls due to early marriages and family responsibilities.

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Education crisis in remote South Sudan: AVSI's analysis of challenges in Kapoeta Regions

In rural and hard-to-reach areas like Kapoeta East and Kapoeta South counties, the education situation is dire, with 94% of the population reported to have never attended school according to AVSI's March 2023 multi-sectoral analysis.

The Toposa community in Greater Kapoeta is still sceptical about education, fearing it would undermine their cultural identity and expose girls to undesirable practices. Living a pastoralist life, they migrate with livestock to cattle camps, making it challenging for community members, especially children, to attend school.

Furthermore, the education system is significantly impacted by a lack of teachers. Prior to the 2013 crisis, schools in Greater Kapoeta relied on teachers from Kenya, Uganda, and other parts of Eastern Equatoria State.. The crisis and currency devaluation led to the departure of these teachers, creating a substantial void in the education system.

"St.Bakhita" girls' primary school in Narus (Kapoeta East county, EES). The school founded in 1994 by Bishop Paride Taban during the times of the war is now directed by Sister Jane (in the picture) who takes care of over 600 students, among whom AVSI supports at least 45 - photo by Marco Gualazzini

AVSI in Kapoeta Region to strengthen the education system

Since 2017, AVSI has been actively involved in educational interventions in Greater Kapoeta, operating in over 15 schools and supporting more than 20.000 students. The organization, with a focus on addressing the needs of vulnerable girls and boys in challenging areas like Kauto, has successfully bridged the educational gap in a region with one of the lowest literacy rates in the country. Significantly, AVSI has altered the composition of enrolled students, with a notable increase in the number of Toposa students compared to those from other tribes. This shift underscores AVSI's impact. AVSI has also reopened a primary school in Nanyangachor, providing support to over 400 vulnerable students, including street children and girls facing forced marriages, emphasizing its commitment to positively influencing education and community well-being in the region.

The boarding school initiative: Comprehensive support for child well-being in remote areas

AVSI's involvement in Greater Kapoeta goes beyond education by enhancing the role of boarding schools as holistic support systems. This approach addresses health, shelter, feeding, and childcare services to create safe spaces where children can learn and grow safely.

In South Sudan, boarding schools play a crucial role in meeting the unique needs of rural areas, particularly benefiting vulnerable groups like girls escaping early marriage. Additionally, providing school feeding in boarding schools not only ensure daily meals but also encourage attendance, gaining support from parents who recognize the institutions' impact on their children's formal and non-formal education.

The success of this initiative in Greater Kapoeta is attributed to a whole education approach. By focusing on a selected number of schools and revitalizing existing boarding schools, the initiative maximizes the utilization of available resources, avoiding the creation of new institutions prone to abandonment. This targeted strategy prioritizes the delivery of quality education, emphasizing teacher incentives, training, and support to improve the overall well-being of both teachers and learners.

AVSI's impact: Remarkable rise in Toposa pupil enrollment

AVSI's strategy has yielded a significant positive impact, notably reflected in the remarkable increase in Toposa pupil enrollment in Greater Kapoeta. In 2017, when AVSI initiated support for St. Bakhita Girls and St. Daniel Comboni Boys, Toposa pupils comprised less than 20% of the school population. The implementation of measures such as providing scholastic and teaching materials, boosting teacher motivation, rehabilitating school facilities, and mobilizing the community has resulted in a substantial increase in enrollment, reaching nearly 70%.

Transforming education: School gardens for enhanced community health and nutrition

The success achieved can be attributed also to the support from two multisectoral projects:

AIRE SicurA project (Integrated and Inclusive Approach to Strengthen Education and Food Security of the most vulnerable) and ASAP project (increasing Food Security of the Most Vulnerable Populations in Kapoeta East, South and Jebel Boma, through an integrated and multisectoral approach) funded by the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development (AICS).

The two projects showcase a collaborative spirit among beneficiaries, offering continued support to both new and existing students from St. Bakhita Girls Primary School and St. Daniel Comboni Boys. This support encompasses school fees, materials, and access to quality education delivered by well-trained teachers proficient in food security and livelihood topics, including optimal nutritional practices.

The innovative school garden initiative not only enhances agricultural knowledge but also diversifies diets, encouraging the consumption of a variety of foods beyond traditional staples like sorghum. The school garden serves as a platform for providing a complementary diet, fostering a broader understanding of nutritional best practices among students and the wider community. As students share their newfound knowledge with their families, these practices become integrated into daily life, contributing significantly to the overall nutritional and health improvement of entire households.

AVSI supports the girls’ primary school “St.Bakhita” in Narus (Kapoeta East county, EES) - photo by Marco Gualazzini

The reopening of a boarding primary school in Nanyangachor: A positive impact for the whole community

Established in 1999, Good Shepherd Day and Boarding Primary School in Nanyangachor, Kapoeta East County, faced closure in 2011, creating an educational void for the Kauto people.

In 2022, AVSI, through the Aire SicurA project, tackled the repercussions of the closure, addressing increased school dropouts, early marriages, and risky behaviours among children.

Under the AICS-funded ASAP project, AVSI, in collaboration with the Kapoeta East County Education Department, officially reopened the school on March 1, 2023.

The school has made significant strides, with 457 enrolled children, the recruitment of additional qualified teachers, and a consistent supply of high-quality learning materials and clothing. Moreover, 67 adults have joined Adult Literacy Program (ALP) Centers, offering basic literacy courses for both adults and children.

The introduction of kitchen gardens not only enhances agricultural knowledge but also diversifies diets, promoting the consumption of foods beyond sorghum for improved health. This intervention has allowed the school to provide a complementary diet for students.

Additionally, the provision of quality accommodation has boosted teacher motivation, and the construction of a girls' dormitory ensures a secure environment for female students.

The reopening of Good Shepherd Day and Boarding Primary School exemplifies AVSI's dedication to addressing educational challenges, fostering community development, and enhancing the teachers' and learners' well-being in remote areas.