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We Were Born to Do This!

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait

NEW YORK, Aug 9 2021 (IPS) - The first time I visited South Sudan in 2004 – prior to its independence – I travelled across the entire the country which was then a region devastated by man’s inhumanity to man. Although South Sudan is slightly larger than France, I could find only one concrete school building in Rumbek.

Yasmine Sherif

Millions were impacted by the twenty-year civil war and decades of marginalization, and far too many children and their families were internally displaced or had fled the country as refugees to Kenya. Conflict, extreme poverty and a near total absence of infrastructure had left virtually every girl, boy and the youth furthest behind. I will never forget this sight of unspeakable injustice.

Reading and reflecting on ECW’s interview in this month’s Newsletter with the Honourable Awut Deng Acuil, Minister of General Education and Instruction for South Sudan, both deepened my indignation against any injustice – especially against girls and the forcibly displaced – and also gave me immense hope in learning more about such a resilient, experienced and educated female leader – a veteran in education, gender and human rights.

The Honourable Awut Deng Acuil reminds us all of the importance of local ownership, leadership and knowledge, as well as our absolute moral obligation to focus on girls’ and refugees’ education. Her strength, perseverance and dedication – exemplified by her many accomplishments in life – are astonishing and inspiring.

She describes the national context, her own struggles and Education Cannot Wait’s investments in the children of South Sudan in an authentic, genuine way, fully understanding the challenges faced by girls, refugees and children and youth enduring conflict, forced displacement, climate change induced disasters, not to mention COVID-19.

Under her guidance, ECW has worked closely with the government of South Sudan to deliver a $189 million multi-year humanitarian-development-peace nexus education investment. During our first year alone, we reached 116,240 crisis-affected girls and boys in 181 schools with $20 million in seed funds. But these results do not do justice to either their needs, nor to her leadership.

We now call on all our strategic donor partners, governments, private sector and foundations to urgently help close the $169 million funding gap. Under the leadership of an inspiring female leader – the Honorable Awut Den Acuil is South Sudan’s first-ever female Minister of Education – the children and youth of South Sudan now have a chance to have a better future. We cannot afford to look the other way. Our concerted commitment to girls’ education could not be in better hands.

When learning more about the Honorable Awut Den Acuil, and after reading her profound reflection on one of her favorite books, Alice in Wonderland, my thoughts turn to Jeanne d’Arc, who once said: “I am not afraid. I was born to do this.”

Let us not be afraid. Let us learn from those we serve. Or, as the Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, once said: “Who are you to teach, and who am I to learn?” This is what localization and real empowerment is all about. This is the Grand Bargain in its essence. Let us invest now in South Sudan – the girls, children with disabilities, forcibly displaced children and all the other children and youth left furthest behind for decades.

With an overall investment of at least $400 million in Education Cannot Wait towards equitable, inclusive, quality education for crisis-affected children and youth around the world, we can help overcome the challenges already being tackled by such extraordinary female leadership in the education sector.

Together, we can drive global commitment for girls’ education and for all those left furthest behind, making a real difference in all their lives. Join us … we were born to do this!


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