Monday, October 26, 2009

Number One Priority? Food

Last week I met with a group of teachers at a secondary school in Twic County. (“Twic” rhymes with “preach.”) As part of an assessment for NESEI’s expansion in South Sudan, it has been highly educational for me to visit other functioning secondary schools in recent days.

The Twic school was in a very remote location. Arriving in a big 7-ton lorry, my colleagues and I parked underneath a tree and were immediately surrounded by kids. This is one of my favorite parts of the job. The smiles, enthusiastic greetings, and handshakes from the students always make visitors feel “at home” and “most welcome.”

Following a round of introductions and tour of the campus, I settled in for a roundtable discussion with the faculty and headmaster. In response to my question, “what is your number one priority for the students at this school?” they responded simply, “Food.”

Food security in this area is a real problem. The student population hovers around 600. Thirteen teachers teach 15 subjects. Many of the young people are IDP’s – internally displaced persons – returning home from camps sustained by humanitarian aid groups.

This makes a NESEI-sponsored school garden seem like a no-brainer. But until seeds & tools can be purchased for planting - and crops can grow until ready for harvesting - other solutions need to be considered. Calculations were done and the faculty suggested that 9,000 Sudanese pounds would go a long way toward feeding the students for an entire year. Blink.

For an equivalency of approximately $4,000 US dollars, they are saying they can feed over 600 people. Huh? Now, I have not yet done the research on this number for this area, but if this is the case, then it costs around $6 per person for food for the year. I’m inclined to think this is a monthly amount, rather than the yearly total, but I do not cease to be surprised in Sudan.

With all due respect to the Starbucks that I lovingly frequent in America, one less venti-flavored-double-shot latte a month could pay for a kid’s school meals here in far-away Twic County. This is something I will think about when I order my next cup of coffee. Or, better yet, the good people at Starbucks and other good java shops will read this and decide to expand their outreach to include the provision of meals for this group of kids in the African bush.

I choose to employ optimism as a strategy. Do you think it could work in this case?

From Twic, South Sudan,


P.S. The pics above are from NESEI gardens in Yei, South Sudan. The internet here was too slow to upload Twic pics. Hopefully I'll have a better internet connection in coming days.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lessons Learned & A Second Chance

Colin Nelsen has been with NESEI from Day 1 on the ground in Sudan. He has sweated with local laborers digging river sand to make building bricks; he has negotiated more deals regarding land, capital assets, and labor issues than he probably cares to remember; and I'm willing to bet that he has changed more than 250 tires in just this last year on trucks, land cruisers, motorbikes, and bicycles to help keep NESEI moving - literally. He has briefly traveled with me stateside trying to raise awareness about the importance of education in a post-conflict country like Sudan. However, independent from the accolades I could heap on him simply for being a great project manager, my respect for Colin grew yet again this last week.

NESEI has a sponsored student who has recently made some poor choices. We can all relate to being a teenager trying to create an independent identity. Bless her heart, she is strong and smart, but partly a rebel. She is not a big believer in the status quo. (Her "scrappiness" will serve her well in later years I believe.) But at this moment in time, she has decided to test the patience of her teachers and other school faculty. We have experienced some challenges with her. She was expelled from one of the public schools for her behaviors.

However, because we are NESEI and because we have a unique group of people working with the NESEI-sponsored students, we will not allow this student to "get lost" in the bush of Africa. So, Colin began communicating with this girl's grandfather and uncle - who serve as her guardians. Colin also called one of our NESEI partners - Health Net/TPO - to arrange counseling for this student. He picked her up and drove her to her first appointment with a counselor. Following that meeting and after multiple conversations with her grandfather and uncle, Colin arranged for her registration in a new school, giving her a fresh start and a second chance at achieving education. Today is her first day back in classes after being expelled.

And by the way, Colin made all these arrangements in the same few days that he was trying to repair two generators, organize supplies for a new rabbit hutch to be built at the school, and help me finalize some documents requesting more money to sponsor more girls!

NESEI knows this girl. We know her family. She sings like an angel. Her smile could provide enough wattage to light up New York city. She likes to read. One day, she would like to travel to Mozambique. Her favorite food is chicken - with french fries. She would like to become a health care professional - possibly even a doctor. Her grandfather and uncle are good men. They have attended school meetings. They care about this young family member and her future. They know - and we know - what she is capable of achieving.

If you are in America reading this story, and you have contributed to our Girls Rising Scholarship campaign, then you too are a part of this story. NESEI does not "assign" students to donors for various reasons. But we do KNOW the scholarship recipients and want our donors to feel assured that we are wisely investing your dollars into the lives of "our girls." All of us are learning lessons along the way. Some days we experience great success; other days, we feel greatly challenged. On those days, it's nice to remember that people care and second chances are available to help make things right.

From Juba, the capitol of South Sudan,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From the Office of NESEI Yei

I have never felt better about NESEI in Sudan than I do now. So many fantastic opportunities and people coming together.

My apologies for slow communication. Our internet and generators are still out at CTC - though they may be fixed soon. Today I'm using UMCOR'S internet and power.

Yesterday was lovely! I spent the afternoon at the school with the girls. The microscope is a hit. However, it requires power, and there is no power at Yei Girls. So, I brought it back home with me and will try to charge it (somewhere). I read the American letters and our girls are preparing responses. I read aloud while they were sewing sanitary pads. On Saturday, the about a dozen girls came to the house to sew pads. There is nothing better than the sound of the girls filling up the house with talk and laughter. They also sang "Happy Birthday" to Colin!

The S4 girls went to Kampala last week for exams. During term 2, no one was admitted overnight to the hospital! We are happy about that. The well still needs attention at Yei Girls. Flowers are blooming on campus. And, veggies are growing in the garden.

I have pictures!....of the momma & papa rabbits and the babies!!!! Will try to get those sent. They are adorable! And!....more babies are expected next week! We are raising rabbits at Yei Girls! Today, a hutch is being built so they don't become dog-food. (literally).

Health Net / TPO is taking good care of our girls on an "as needed" basis. Liberty FM deserves a million thanks for hosting the radio debates. All the students are crammed into an itty bitty studio where the temperature is more than a thousand degrees, but the Liberty folks are generous with their time and attention for us.

The impact NESEI has in the community is far-reaching. It is not uncommon for us to receive requests from young women who desire sponsorship from NESEI. One such letter was handed to me this past weekend. Here is the text:

To the Office of NESEI Yei:
Dear Madam Anita, With honour and respect to your office I submit my application to your office for the following reasons. I am Sudanese by nationality aged 17 years old in Senior One. The reasons why I apply is because I don't have someone to support me in my education. I am an orphan and am staying with my grandparents. But they have no power of supporting me in education, but my uncle in our clan told me that I should be married by an old man. I refused. I came to Yei Girls and I am the one who paid my school fees. I use to be a house girl. But I have interest to continue with my eduation. I will be very grateful if you put my application into your consideration. Thanks.

You can help us respond positively to young girls like this. Please give to the Girls Rising scholarship campaign. This girl could join the other NESEI-sponsored students in receiving a quality education to help improve her future.

Would like to write more, but UMCOR staff is leaving and I need to go too. Will try to be in touch from Juba.

Thanks all for your support!


Last week I attended an education workshop with Diane and the Yei Girls Boarding Secondary School headmistress, Rita. It was held in the South Sudan capitol of Juba. Approximately 100 people attended.

There were educators from Juba University, representatives from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, project managers from other NGO's. A variety of people from the education sector in South Sudan focused for 3 days on how to train, and retain, quality teachers. For obvious reasons, quality teachers are important. But for a place like South Sudan emerging from war, the statistics compel us to stay the course and work toward scaling up the educational systems. To improve the statistics, attention must continuously be given to producing quality graduates who become quality teachers.

Here are some of the South Sudan numbers provided during the workshop:

According to 2008 data provided by EMIS, 1,327,892 pupils were enrolled in 3,152 schools.

398,536 pupils were learning under trees.

26,438 teachers provided instruction.

Less than 40% were professionally trained.

Less than 7% are female.

To increase the number of trained teachers, the following programs have been implemented:

1) Pre-service national teacher training institutes (TTI)

2) In Service trainings

3) Fast track teacher training program (FTTP)

4) Accelerated Learning Program

5) Intensive English Course for teachers

6) Distance education

The Government of South Sudan (GOSS) is moving to upgrade the performance of students and teachers.

NESEI is here to help. We join in the effort to produce strong, new leaders.

From Yei Town,



Hey everyone,
I'm sorry to report that most days the internet here is excruciatingly slow for working on the blog. Feel free to email me your questions and comments at Thanks and can't wait to catch up with you!