Editor’s Note: Peter Yeo, United Nations Foundation Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy, was traveling last week in South Sudan to observe the work of the United Nations in protecting civilians and their health. South Sudan remains at a critical juncture in the implementation of August’s cessation of hostilities agreement.
The two beautiful South Sudanese girls in this photo remind me of my own kids at this age – proudly wearing backpacks and headed off to school with smiles on their faces. But it’s a wonder they are in school at all given they have been forced from their homes and into the United Nations’ Bentiu Camp in South Sudan as a result of horrendous violence wracking the young nation over the past 18 months.
Our friends at UNICEF and the U.S. Agency for International Development have ensured that these girls – and thousands of other children – will continue to go to school despite losing their homes. But of the 6,800 kids at the Bentiu school, only 1,800 are girls. Girls are expected to stay at home to fetch water, collect firewood, and cook for their family. Thank goodness that the UNICEF team is going door-to-door, educating families about the vital importance of educating their girls.
The education they’re getting is basic, at best, with 100 hundred kids to a classroom and barely enough room on the wood benches. But these displaced kids are in school, learning how to read and write. In a country where 87% of girls are illiterate, that’s a step ahead.
Stay tuned to this space. The UN Foundation’s Girl Up campaign will increasingly work to help ensure that children forced from their homes continue to be educated by our UN partners. Otherwise, those who spark civil wars will win once again.