Education is the key
Since 2015, children in Cece Primary School in Nimule, South Sudan have been able to attend school in this war-torn and poverty-stricken country.
Rebecca Mallinson worked with Pascalina Idreanngwa to set up the school and today, with their energy and your support, it goes from strength to strength.
Children from 5-16 are taught in a four classroom block and there will soon be a 5th.
With your donations and help we can continue to support these children and help them forge a brighter future for the people of South Sudan.
The full story is detailed below:
The Sean Devereux Children’s fund helps support a school in South Sudan co-founded in 2015 by a British lady called Rebecca Mallinson.
Cece Primary School (pronounced CHAY CHAY) is going from strength to strength and here is the story of how Rebecca found herself in South Sudan running a school for some of the poorest children in the world.
A school in a town called Nimule, situated to the south of South Sudan on the border with Uganda, is not exactly the place you would expect to find a solitary English woman but that is where you will find Rebecca Mallinson, hard at work developing the school she cofounded 3 years ago, in 2015.
“Its amazing how much you can do in a situation like that,” says the slim, white haired, 58-year-old. “I am quite an ordinary person really.”
No, not quite so ordinary - in many ways Rebecca’s story is rather remarkable.
Rewind to 2011 when Rebecca, who has three grown up children, was living on a houseboat in London and experiencing a major crisis in her personal life. “I was having a very unfortunate time,” she tells me. “I was weeping permanently, I think I was almost at break down point. I just couldn’t stop crying. Then, one morning in the middle of it all, as I was attempting to wash my face with the tears streaming down my face, I just suddenly said to God, ‘Whatever can I do now?’ and I heard a voice say: ‘Go and volunteer in the third world.’ It was a very clear voice, very pure and in that instance I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders and I stopped crying. It was as if I turned a corner and everything had completely changed. I stopped worrying, put everything behind me and immediately became totally focused on how I was going to volunteer in the third world.”
Rebecca is convinced the voice she heard was God’s voice and when I suggest that some people might not have listened, she replies: “I think you would find it very hard to ignore. I just knew I had to listen.”
So, Rebecca, who had no background or experience in the aid field, set about trying to figure out how she was going to volunteer in “the third world.” Someone suggested she did a TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) which she did online and she ended up with a teaching job in The Republic of Sudan with a British charity called The Sudan Volunteer Program.
“The Sudan Volunteer Program was the only charity I found which I could afford to go with,” she explains. “All the others I came across were asking for large amounts of money for the privilege of going, which I didn’t have. They had an arrangement with the Sudanese government which meant you were paid to teach at local rates. That way we were treated on the same basis as local teachers, which was what I wanted. I had to fund my own air ticket and pay for my own food but lodgings were provided. It was a small wage but it was all I needed and it worked very well.”
Rebecca worked with the Sudan Volunteer Program for seven months until she was forced to return to the UK because of problems with her visa and she found herself searching once again for another opportunity to go back to Sudan, or elsewhere in Africa. A priest she had met in Sudan suggested she tried South Sudan (a separate country from Sudan) and out of the blue she received an email from a pastor who was a South Sudanese refugee in the USA looking for a volunteer teacher for an orphanage and school he had founded in a town called Nimule in South Sudan and that is where she went. “I stayed with the orphanage and school for about two years, getting to know the children in the orphanage, who are very dear to me,” says Rebecca. “I also became familiar with the local culture and the education system, but there were many clashes which eventually made it impossible for me to stay. The clashes were both on a religious front and because I was critical of the draconian corporal punishment and lack of teaching in the school. I prayed again about my direction and God said, ‘Go and speak to Pascalina.’”
Pascalina Idreangwa was a lady Rebecca had met while attending her local Catholic church in Nimule who ran two local support groups - one for people with HIV/AIDS and one for people with disabilities. She had told Rebecca previously about her dream to start a school for children from these families who were not receiving any education. So Rebecca went to see Pascalina and suggested they started a school together. That was May 2015 and a month later the two had set up Cece Primary School. Rebecca emailed all her email contacts and asked for regular donations for the school running costs and they linked up with a local South Sudanese NGO called HUMAES – “Humans Must Access Essentials”. Through HUMAES’ contacts they were loaned a building free of charge. “It all happened very, very fast and almost effortlessly,” she says “Everything fell into place just like that. God’s will was clearly there.”
Cece primary school was opened in June 2015 in the centre of Nimule. They started off with 60 children but outgrew the loaned building after a year and a half. Again, says Rebecca, her prayers were answered. Pascalina’s father, who is a local tribal chief, agreed to give them a large plot of unused land and they have ended up with a big compound on which they have built a block of four classrooms and are now in the process of building 4 more. In just under 3 years the number of children attending the school has risen from 60 to 190 with ages ranging from 5 upwards (with a flexible upper age limit to allow for those who missed out on primary education early on). They currently have seven teachers who are paid (Rebecca is not paid) and employ three cooks to cook meals for the children with food provided by a local American mission called “Far Reaching Ministries” which also supplies food to other schools in the area.
The children who attend Cece are among the poorest in the community. “Nimule has the highest incidence of HIV in the whole country,” explains Rebecca. “We have families who have lost parents through AIDS or whose parents or carers are ill with HIV. Some parents have been shot as they fled from their home areas in the war. Many of the children are orphans and looked after by grandparents who are old and very frail or by other relatives. Then there are others who have parents or carers with physical disabilities, or are suffering from trauma-related mental health problems. We have a few children with HIV infection themselves, two children with hepatitis and a boy who is completely blind.”
A recent report from UNICEF (1) suggests half of school-aged children in South Sudan are out of school. Rebecca believes many of their students would be receiving no education if they were not at Cece. “They would be spending time doing menial tasks like looking after younger children at home or working in the family vegetable plot or market stall, “she says. “It is not uncommon to see children going through rubbish heaps looking for plastic to sell for recycling at a plant across the border in Uganda and many of the older, uneducated girls are at risk of being married off early so the parents can receive a dowry price. They marry young in South Sudan and are expected to have many children. Infant and maternal mortality are very high, so education can be a real life-saver. Most marriages are polygamous, which is a major cause of HIV. The boys are also vulnerable. Without education many will join the army as child soldiers or become thieves. South Sudan is among one of the poorest countries in the world - if you look at the international statistics on areas like health and education, South Sudan is almost always at the bottom of the list. There is very little infrastructure. There is just one tarmacked road even though this is a country that’s bigger than France. The road goes from Uganda up to Juba, through Nimule. It’s the main artery bringing in imports such as petrol. There are hospitals but they are very under resourced – the local hospital doesn’t even have an x-ray machine and they only have one doctor who is also the surgeon. There are also very few nurses or midwives. For both boys and girls, education will make it possible to get work and support their families. Without education, South Sudan will not develop. A South Sudanese pastor once said to me, ‘South Sudan is a 6th World Country, not a 3rd World Country.’ It certainly isn’t a ‘developing’ country at the moment.”
I ask what keeps Rebecca going in a place so poor, in an alien culture so far from home. “I have never been comfortable with comfort, hence living on a boat when I was in England,” she replies. “Working in South Sudan is worthwhile and I see the results in the children. Those children who are getting to grips with reading are so happy. I have reading books that I have brought from England and at breaktime instead of going out to play some of the children rush to get the books. They take such pleasure in them. I find it just wonderful to see. Some of the children are enormously ambitious. We have lots who want to be pilots and I’ve got one who wants to be a pastor. They have a lot of things they want to do and those who have been with us for longer are the most positive. That’s what I see across the board, they are looking forward.”
Rebecca returns to the UK to see her family and fundraise for a few weeks every 2 years but she says she finds the adaption back to life in the UK very difficult: “Walking down the street in London people don’t meet your eye, but in South Sudan you have a conversation with everyone you meet regardless of whether you know them or not. That just doesn’t happen in the UK. There is also the constant buying of unnecessary things in the UK, which I am very uncomfortable with. For example, in South Sudan if you need to buy a needle, you buy one needle, not a packet of 20. It’s a very different place. It’s a very lovely place in many ways. I love the connectivity with people and I enjoy problem-solving -it’s a great place to do that sort of thing. Obviously, I can’t solve everyone’s problems but to be able to help some people is a wonderful feeling.”
Rebecca needs to generate an income of $500 per month to keep the school running, not including the cost of the ongoing building work. The cost of building one classroom is currently nearly $4,000. There is no financial help from the government and she is the only fundraiser so how does she do it? “Even though there is no government money for education there is a local education department which acts as a hub for NGOs and does school inspections. Last year the education office put us in touch with a German NGO which built latrines for the school. We link up with other NGOs when we can. Our income is entirely from donations. The SDCF gave us a very generous donation of £5,000 which started off our classroom building program. When I am visiting England I give talks to churches and any other interested people. A branch of the Catenians (a lay Catholic group) has just given us a very generous donation. It is very difficult to fundraise long distance so I am trying to find people who could start a charity specifically to fundraise and raise awareness of the school in my absence.”
Rebecca is planning to stay at the school teaching and fundraising indefinitely and is currently looking into applying for residency status. She is clearly happy with the direction her life has taken: “I am very happy. I love it there. I find Nimule a very friendly place to live. I am very happy,” she says.
Rebecca Mallinson was talking to Theresa Devereux.
Last updated: September 2017
Situation overview. The ongoing crisis has aggravated an already difficult education situation in South Sudan, with low rates of enrolment, limited girls’ participation in schooling and poor school infrastructure. Annual Education Census (AEC) 2016 data revealed that 36 per cent of primary school students had no access to latrines and 85 per cent had no school fencing. From 2013 to 2016, the primary school student net enrolment ratio (NER) decreased by 10 per cent. The 2016 AEC showed a 50.4 per cent NER in 2016, indicating that half of school-aged children are still out of school. The most common reasons for children dropping out of school was ‘long distance to school’, ‘couldn’t pay fees, uniforms or other costs’ and ‘moved/displaced’. ‘Insecurity on the way to school’ also featured highly as a reason.
Insecurity has also been reported as the main cause of school closures, followed by the delay or non-payment of teacher salaries. An education assessment in November 2016 revealed that widespread attacks against functional schools have occurred since December 2013, with at least one in three schools having suffered one or more attacks by armed groups or forces. The provision of safe learning spaces, trained and committed teachers, and basic education materials are essential to meet the immediate needs of children and adolescents. The capacity of the Ministry of General Education and Instruction to respond to the needs of children remains limited. Meanwhile, the capacity of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) providing frontline services needs continuous strengthening to be actively engaged in quality education service delivery. The AEC 2016 revealed that more than half (58 per cent) of primary level teachers are untrained. Meanwhile, findings of the 2016 Education Assessment show teachers left schools mainly due to delayed and non-payment of salaries, insecurity, and teacher salaries that are comparatively much lower than other jobs.
Impact of the conflict
The surge in countrywide insecurity in late 2016 and 2017 has undermined the provision of education services. In conflict-affected locations, schools remain closed, often occupied by internally displaced persons seeking shelter and protection. Based on data from the EMIS and the Education Assessment, there was a higher number of weeks of education lost in 2016 compared to 2015, with 16 per cent of schools losing more than a month of schooling. In counties such as Kajo-Keji, Morobo and Lainya in Central Equatoria, Mayendit and Leer in Unity, Magwi in Eastern Equatoria, and Uror in Jonglei, schools have remained closed since July 2016.
(2) South Sudan Country profile. BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14069082