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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Activists speak on importance of educating Sudanese girls

Published: March 26, 2010
Section: News

Human rights activist Gloria White-Hammond spoke about using education to ensure equal opportunity rights for women in Sudan and other countries.

Co-founder of My Sister’s Keeper, a women’s organization in Sudan, White-Hammond was accompanies by her Chief Operating Officer Lee Farrow and Program Director Sarah Rial at Monday’s speech in the Heller School. All three women agreed that young girls do not have the ability to improve their lives without access to education.

As part of My Sister’s Keeper to educate girls, the group helped build The Kunyuk School for Girls in Akon. Located in southern Sudan, the school has 525 students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade. White-Hammond explained that the need for female education in Sudan was especially dire, as only one in five primary school students in Sudan is female. Ninety percent of the population in Sudan as a whole is illiterate.

Farrow said educating the women in Sudan could help provide them with a historical and current background of the country they live in.

“We want the women to invest in the things that they feel most concerned about,” Farrow said.

The first step in the organization’s theory is to educate the girls about their ability to promote change and to teach them about how the civic process works, Farrow said.

At first the school did not have physical buildings, but White-Hammond said, “When you [the girls] have been deprived for decades, you want a physical structure.”

The school recently opened eight classrooms along with offices and dining space in June 2009.

Although genocide has devastated the country’s Darfur region, and 300,000 have been killed and 2.5 million displaced, the organization works with the entire country of Sudan, as well as other nations.

“Our commitment is to think about Sudan in a holistic sense,” White-Hammond said.

Rial, who herself is a refugee from Sudan who has been living in the United States for ten years said her country is “tired of war, but they are stuck and they hope that we, as women can help.”

What separates My Sister’s Keeper from other groups providing humanitarian aid and relief, according to White-Hammond is that her group is “one of the few groups that has a development project on the ground and also does advocacy [work].”

Franco Majok, founder of the Wunlang School for boys and girls in southern Sudan, was also present at the talk and said basic education can help start children on the path to a better life.

“People with education, it’s easy for them to get out and escape. And that is what I’m hoping now,” Majok said in an interview with The Hoot.

The problem he faces is the difficulty in finding well-educated teachers for his school. Most of the teachers are older students in grades five through seven.

In the Kunyuk School, White-Hammond faces similar problems, admitting that there are few educational options for children once they complete eighth grade.

When asked by a student how long her group will continue to help women and work for peace, White-Hammond said, “How long will we stay with it? As long as it takes.”