Dr. Ann Evans, September 6, 2017
For several years, I’ve been traveling to Old Fangak, South Sudan, a community once known as a sleepy little riverside village that has grown dramatically. My trips began to support the medical work of a truly amazing woman, Dr. Jill Seaman. She would never say it, but her work in humanitarian healthcare is legendary. Unexpectedly, my involvement in Old Fangak greatly expanded after I gave a modest gift of grinders to a group of local women.
Their gratitude was overwhelming, and we were soon working side by side, grinding grain and clearing weeds from a half-finished, abandoned cement block building. The women cut thigh-high brush with their “pangas” and I finished construction by adding a roof. The building became the anchor for the “Women at the Center – South Sudan” project in Old Fangak.
Education for All
Each time I met with the women, it was clear that lack of education is a heartbreaking gap for them and their children. At a first informal literacy/numeracy class, 400 women showed up. We also spoke about the lack of even one functioning primary school for the children. More construction ensued with metal buildings for classrooms. Today, there are 1,300 children attending with textbooks aligned to the national curriculum. Girls are 50% of new students. It was an honor when South Sudan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology nominated the work for a UNESCO prize. Click here to watch a video.
Hunger is an Enemy
Last year, was particularly hard for these women and their community. One brutal reality of South Sudan is the impact of hunger. In 2016, women and children we serve had to literally forage for food. We are eternally grateful that this year, with support from nonprofit Rise Against Hunger, the Women at the Center project includes a daily serving of porridge to all children at the Old Fangak primary school and a sustainable agriculture pilot with fast-growing crops. By the end of this year, an even more substantial meals program should be in place for older children who have longer school days. The agriculture pilot is also being expanded to include a greater variety of grains and vegetables.
On this challenging but rewarding journey, I’ve met incredible, like-minded people. Canadian Sister Barbara Paleczny has become a lifelong friend while bringing teacher training to the community through nonprofit South Sudan. And it was a welcome surprise to meet Patricia Shafer, Executive Director of Mothering Across Continents, and learn of MAC’s similar work in a totally different part of South Sudan. We spent a year establishing a relationship, and 10 months ago Women at the Center became a MAC flagship project. This management support and nonprofit status accelerated and increased Women at the Center – South Sudan’s impact.
On My Next Trip
This November, the first thing I’ll do when I return to Old Fangak is meet with the women to discuss how things are going with them and children attending primary school. The project’s recent addition of an Early Childhood Development program is unique to much of Africa and previously unknown in Old Fangak. There will be a planning session ways to keep expanding classes for adults, especially women who have never had the most basic education.
But as much as has been accomplished, I’m just one woman. Being a flagship project of MAC sustains the vision. The project can always use more desks, education scholarships for women, uniforms, teacher training . . . I welcome support for these women and children with open arms.