This has been an extremely exciting year for Drop. We expanded our field teams in Uganda and South Sudan to include some very talented and experienced people. We also moved to new, extremely needy areas of operation. By the end of summer we had close to thirty-five school water projects either completed or underway. And now we are in the process of launching a new girl empowerment initiative that will work in conjunction with our school water and sanitation program. In South Sudan, we moved into Eastern Equatoria and are starting our activities in Torit County. UNICEF had first suggested we consider moving to this area, as it is one of the most underserved regions in the world.
As with most areas of South Sudan, there is a mixture of schools in Torit County. The town schools, although very basic, at least have buildings, latrines, desks, and children attending classes. There are even some girls. In the villages, it is much different. Most of those schools are under trees, with no water, no toilets, no desks, no chairs, and no girls after the fifth grade! There may be girls in the lower classes but once a girl reaches puberty, she is married off.
I learned that one of the tribes here has an even more disturbing practice, called Girl Compensation. This is an ancient tribal custom of settling legal cases in which someone is accidentally or intentionally killed. The tribe allows the victim’s family is to take a girl from the perpetrator’s family as a form of compensation for the lost family member. Naturally, the girls in this state live in fear. A girl given as compensation essentially becomes a slave of the victim’s family. In these deep village schools, children often miss class because they are at home helping their parents maintain their livelihood. Feeding the family and attending to its basic needs always take precedence over education. This week, we found that most of the children were being kept home to chase birds away from the budding sorghum crops. In school after school, we encountered very few children in class and, each time, were informed they were all home chasing birds. At the Lohehe Primary School, for example, the official enrollment is 420, but on this day there were only a handful of students and just one teacher.
We have a vision for Lohehe Primary School – and for all of the schools in this region. We believe that these schools should be filled with healthy children who want a better future for themselves and their communities. Thanks to you, we’re working to make this vision a reality.