Thursday, February 25, 2010


Three is a nice number.

If the old adage, “third time’s a charm,” is true, then "Three" apparently leads a charmed life. Toddlers graduate from the so-called “terrible two’s” to enter the land of Three. In some religious circles, Three is symbolic of triple deities, such as the Holy Trinity. Greg Mortenson has raised the consciousness of humanity about the importance of education by writing the best-seller, “Three Cups of Tea.” A musical chord would be lost without the Three notes of a triad. At the Olympics, Three is celebrated with colors – gold, silver and bronze.

What does NESEI know about Three? We know that our inaugural class of scholars in Yei, Sudan has started their third year of school! Our summer break has concluded (December/January) and we are back to a routine of advanced reading, writing, and arithmetic. We have entered year Three of providing secondary education for girls. Leading up to a final fourth year, our Sudanese school system labels the classes as Secondary One, Secondary Two, and Secondary Three.

Our NESEI girls are over halfway to a high school graduation day.

Get ready Four. We are coming for you.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

From guns to chalk, land mines to books

Pic 1: Students are taught how to be active participants in and proponents of democracy. This civic education of young people is crucial to sustainable democratic change.

Pic 2: South Sudan is a place where weapons have been the currency for more than 20 years. That hasn't stopped these girls from expressing their zest for life.

Pic 3: "When you mine beneath the surface of fear, you discover resiliency, determination, and hope." -Anita

From guns to chalk, land mines to books....

While standing in line waiting to check my luggage for a short in-county flight, a man in front of me was obviously carrying something very bulky. I was curious about it.

“What’s in your vest pockets,” I ask.

“Nothing,” he said, “except bullets.”

Nodding my head as if this is normal, I simply replied, “Oh.”

Two weeks earlier, while preparing to leave a public building, my friends and I were stopped before reaching the parking lot. Why? It seems some unhappy former employees had barricaded the front gate and were armed with knives and spears. No one was getting in. No one was getting out.

Oh. Blink.

Believe it or not, sometimes it is easy to forget that NESEI is at work in a post-conflict country. As we focus on educating young women in secondary schools, it is routine to place our attention on their grades, attendance, relationships, and general academic progress. But once we leave campus, anything goes.

Here is an example of an unpredictable day. It was a travel day. We were flying from Bahr El Ghazal back to Equatoria and then driving on to Yei. Our intention was to leave directly from the Juba airport for the return drive. The maximum amount of time we planned to stay at the airport? 30 minutes. Just long enough to collect our luggage.

For reasons that Colin attempted to explain (something about shock absorbers, a suspension crack, and a tire rim) we were forced to spend the afternoon waiting, and waiting, for the truck to be fixed. Around 5:00 p.m., we were given a “yellow-light.” I don’t say “green-light” because nothing related to transport in Sudan is ever that simple – or fast. The truck was in decent enough shape to “probably” make the 5 hour drive between Juba and Yei. However, there was just a snippet of daylight left. That was a problem.

We had to consider the potential consequences of being on a dirt road, in the dark, in Sudan. Thought had to be given to landmines, rogue rebels, and if our mobile phones would get service if we were caught in an emergency situation. Really. Think about this the next time you back out of your driveway in suburbia.

We opted for “safety first.” Staying overnight in Juba was a better plan than hitting the road. We would be contributing to the local economy, and getting a good night’s sleep before the trek to Yei.

It’s not necessarily wise to tell these things. It gives my sisters more cause for worry than I already provide them by being so far away from home. But I tell it because it’s a part of the NESEI story. And even more so, it’s a part of life in a developing world. You have heard it before. Maybe even ignored it before.

But, these situations remind me of how much our students have overcome. Our transport delay was minor. The man with the bullets was supposed to have them – he is a soldier protecting civilians. The guards could have found a better way to protest their unemployment, but in a place where weapons have been the currency for more than 20 years, it is not reasonable to think that things can change overnight.

Our NESEI girls have lived in this environment for a long time. It’s home. It’s where they will likely raise their daughters and sons. When you mine beneath the surface of fear, you discover resiliency, determination, and hope. You may even find security and safety in the collective power of individuals who stop and think before they act. Our girls have done this. They have reasoned that an education will give them a better future. They do not fear it.

As we approach the national elections in 2010 and the referendum for self-determination in 2011, we are likely to experience anxiety. Old feuds linger and democracy sometimes seems elusive. Yet, in recent years, I have witnessed progress in security and seen steps taken for improved communication among the country's people. I want to believe that Sudan can have free and fair elections.

If our girls can overcome adversity, then we can too. Together, we can fight a different kind of war. One where chalk replaces guns and where textbooks replace landmines. This is important to keep in mind when boarding a plane with a man carrying little, “except bullets.”

- Anita

Friday, January 22, 2010

An "A+" Faculty

Who are the people teaching our NESEI students? A terrific ensemble of teachers from Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya are preparing our girls for their future endeavors. Under the leadership of Headmistress Rita, faculty are teaching classes which include English, math, biology, chemistry, physics, agriculture, commerce & accounts, geography, and history.

At the conclusion of the year, we received a written report from the administration of Yei Girls Boarding Secondary School. All of our boarding NESEI students study at this location. Here are some highlights from the report:

NESEI positively contributed to the survival and improvement of Yei Girls BSS. More notably, NESEI tremendously contributed to our outcry in the following ways:

* A positive relationship and free interaction between the NESEI staff and Yei Girls BSS.
* Contribution to increased enrollment in 2009 through sponsorship, programs, and awareness raising about Girl Child Eduction in Yei County.
* Teaching staff
* Reduction in Malarial infections through provision of mosquito nets to students.
* Transport
* Cultivation of school garden
* Formation of various clubs
* Provision of sports equipment & uniforms
* Financial assistance during crisis
* Prompt payment of tuition fees of students
* Provision of dormitory facilities - beds and mattresses
* Holiday study program
* International visitors which raised the standards of the school as viewed by the locals
* Ever joyous moments with NESEI staff

Indeed, it is a pleasure to work with numerous education professionals at Yei Girls Boarding Secondary School, Yei Day Secondary School, St. Joseph's Secondary School, and Nile High Secondary School. We extend our sincere appreciation to this fine group of women and men for their continued dedication to improving the lives of so many young people in Southern Sudan. We salute you.


P.S. We are happy to report that we have achieved 80% of the Girls Rising Scholarship Fund goal. Our generous NESEI friends have time and again showed us their generosity and passion for sending Sudanese girls to high school. THANK YOU!!! Together we will give the gift of secondary education to 200 girls in 2010.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Girl Talk"

Pics: Girl Talk with Anita and NESEI secondary students in Yei, Sudan.

Some things are universal. Nerves before an exam. Sports. Music. Girls talking about boys.

We talk about it all with our NESEI scholars. Diane is generally the queen of conversation with the girls. She encourages them. Sometimes scolds them. She definitely holds them accountable for their actions. She laughs with them and sometimes cries with them.

It was my privilege to be included in some of the "girl talk" during this year's third term. Snippets of conversations - fit for public consumption - included:

"I will do better....(insert selected action here)... keeping time, studying, or cleaning the dorm." "We want to go to town for sugar, tomatoes, and juice."
"My parents make me do too much housework."

At the conclusion of the term, Diane, our intern - Cathy, and I all talked with the girls about their plans for the holidays and "summer break" (December, January, February). Our mantra? "Don't get pregnant."

We read the statistics about young women in Sudan and other countries. We know that a high percentage in African countries are forced into early marriages and receive minimal family planning instruction. We know that culture influences reproductive activities. So, we talk about these things with our NESEI girls. We discuss what the future might look like if they stay in school and focus on their studies. We ask them what the future looks like if they become teenage mothers. We talk about options, consequences of actions, and healthy choices.

We have 100 NESEI-sponsored girls, and hundreds more who benefit from participating in NESEI enrichment programs. We intend for them to all return safely and healthy for the first term of 2011. It's our New Year's resolution to do everything within our power to make it so.


Friday, December 11, 2009

GEM - The Girls Education Movement

Pic above: Catherine and Diane meet with a local teacher and Headmaster to plan a GEM activity.
Pic in the middle: gathered at Yei Girls Boarding Secondary School for a celebration
Pic below: Diane presenting a GEM Club certificate and pin to a young member.

"Parents, stop this." Advice given by a 14 year old boy, Barak, to parents assembled for an end of school year celebration. He was referring to early marriage of their daughters and sons. (Early marriage in Southern Sudan starts at age 11 in many cases.) Barak is a courageous and wise young man.

Barak is also a member of the GEM Club – the “Girls Education Movement” in schools throughout Southern Sudan. Here in Yei, NESEI has helped UNICEF and the Ministry of Education implement GEM Club activities. We hosted a TOT conference – “Training of Trainers” and sponsored a GEM Club celebration during November. In both instances, boys and girls from six local schools came together in support of education for girls and to identify ways they can encourage their families and communities to join in the movement.

My NESEI colleagues, Diane and Catherine are two bright and shining role models for GEM Club members. Diane is our Sudan Deputy Director and Catherine is our college intern. Both are from East Africa. Both young women are educated and strong. To ensure the success of the GEM Clubs in Yei town, they have hauled kids on dirt roads by motorbike, truck, and bus between schools and villages. They have organized meals, dances, and special events to engage our young people in learning more about gender equity and equality. They coordinate with Education Ministry offices, county officials, and teachers to rally enthusiasm for the GEM Club. They exemplify constant “movement!”

Diane. Catherine. Barak. All GEM Club enthusiasts. All a part of the NESEI family. Doing what? Building peace through education. One student, one school, one GEM Club member at a time. This is everyone’s responsibility. Join us. Show your support this holiday season by donating a gift in honor, or in memory, of a woman in your life who has advised you, taught you, or supported your own education.

Here’s how:

Go to
Our trusted fundraising partner, Global Giving, makes it easy to send a beautiful holiday card via mail or email to your gift recipient.


Mail a check to NESEI, 123 Ethan Allen Ave. Ste. 300, Colchester, VT 05446. Include a note telling us the recipient's name and mailing address.

Happy Holidays,

Friday, December 4, 2009

Meet Opani Rose

Pic above: Opani Rose
Pic below: Opani Rose (right) reading with a classmate.

Opani Rose lives with one parent and is the youngest of 3 children. She applied late for our 2009 scholarship program this year. The scholars had already been selected and the money was distributed. Opani was a very shy girl. She would not look directly in our faces. She cried because there were no scholarship positions left. Opani started walking to the NESEI office almost every day, each time asking to become a NESEI-sponsored student. Diane told her to provide her school report cards for future consideration. She did. She kept asking for NESEI to sponsor her. Finally, a space - and funding - became available for Opani.

Today she is a girl who has perfect attendance for NESEI activities. She has faithfully attended classes at school. She has overcome her shyness and learned to speak up. She now looks directly at her intended audience when talking and advises other students to do the same. This is a goal for all of our NESEI students. Speaking directly is a life-skill we emphasize.

Recently, I was chatting with some of our students about the upcoming presidential elections in Sudan. I posed the question, "do you think a young man could successfully become a legislator if the elders in his community believed him to be too young?" Opani replied, "Excuse me, madam. It does not matter if you are young or old, tall or short, thin or fat, black or white. If you are qualified, then you can be a leader."

Opani is a shining example of the emerging new leaders for Southern Sudan. She is a young woman ready to stand up and speak out about important matters in life. If she were running for an office, she would get my vote.

From Yei,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Heartwarming Holiday Gifts

Yesterday, on so called "Black Friday," stores across the country were clogged with desperate shoppers. Why waste time and money buying candles, candy, and plastic trinkets made in China? There is a more rewarding gift for colleagues and friends - the gift of PEACE THROUGH EDUCATION.

Small donations to the Girls Rising scholarship campaign are easily turned into holiday gifts through Global Giving. Make the donations through and have personalized holiday cards sent to your recipients via email or snail mail. You can also choose to print out the pretty cards yourself.

Sound like a good holiday shopping alternative? It gets even better. Donations as gifts are tax-deductible! Those candies and plastic trinkets are not. And if you do this before 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Dec 1st, Global Giving will match your donation 50%.

We wish you a wonderful and meaningful holiday this year!
-Anita, Atem, Colin, Diane, Rachel & Robert

P.S. Could you help spread the word? Feel free to share this message with your friends on Facebook!