JUBA, Central Equatoria, South Sudan (September 2015) — The boy stood at the microphone reading the story of two kids and a lost ball. Confidence amplified his words as he loudly and clearly enunciated every word.
Relishing the moment—with an audience captivated by the performance—Samuel Pitia David seemed energized by the buzzing crowd as they laughed at the humor in the story and the earnest way he emphasized each element.
Was the ball behind the tree? No! Was the ball behind the school? No!
It’s a scene that plays out in similar fashion over and over again around the world. But in South Sudan, where only 27 percent of people 15 and over are literate, it’s a rare sight, indeed. The numbers are even more staggering for girls (that figure drops to 16 percent).
As part of an International Literacy Day celebration in Juba on September 22, the USAID-funded Room to Learn South Sudan project—implemented by Winrock International—distributed school supplies to five Central Equatoria State schools: books, teaching and learning materials, classroom supplies, flash boards, educational games and more.
The day kicked off with roughly 1,400 students from the five different schools spilling onto the grounds of Gumbo Primary School, which hosted the event. The celebration came alive as music from a marching band filled the space. Students held up signs with appeals such as “Kick illiteracy out of South Sudan” and “Girls have the right to learn too.”
Kids were invited to read, for the first time, one of the books they were given that day (which included The Lost Ball). And they had a VIP audience: not only the mass of fellow students but U.S. Ambassador Molly Phee; Minister of Education, Science and Technology for the Government of South Sudan Dr. John Gai Yoah; and Acting State Minister of Education For Central Equatoria Catherine Kapoki.
No pressure, right?
But education is a powerful tool in preparing young people to succeed, and the confidence they projected as they stepped to the microphone, one at a time to read their passages, was inspiring.
And what of the two kids in the story who lost their ball? Looking up, they were able to see it. There it was just above them.
A hint at things to come? We hope so, indeed.
Room to Learn is committed to realizing the potential that lies ahead for these students in school as they focus on their future. The project is implemented by Winrock International in partnership with FHI 360 and Plan International USA and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The project aims to reach 800,000 out-of-school children and youth over five years, either by directly enrolling them in school; improving retention by addressing the quality, safety and relevance of instruction; or through distance learning for hard-to-reach populations.