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,