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Students arrive for class at the Loreto Primary School in Rumbek, South Sudan. The school is run by the Institute for the Blessed Virgin Mary the Loreto Sisters of Ireland. Photo: Paul Jeffrey.

There is no history of secondary education for girls in South Sudan. All girls in South Sudan culture are marginalised. According to local culture they are the property of their extended families. Educating a girl is not seen as a value. Their cultural practices for marriage exacerbate the poverty of families and the ravages of war all militate against a girl’s education. The Loreto Girls Secondary School offers access to education to girls who otherwise would be unable to attend school. Attitudes are slowly changing in South Sudan and more and more families see the value in educating their girls.

Girls Education Facts

  • South Sudan has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality.
  • 53% of girls in South Sudan are married by the age of 18, while nearly one in ten are married by age 15.
  • 76% of girls do not receive an education – the highest in the world.

Mary Alual Adeel (left) and Rose Arual Deng work together on an experiment in the chemistry lab at the Loreto Secondary School in Rumbek, South Sudan. The school is run by the Institute for the Blessed Virgin Mary the Loreto Sisters of Ireland. Photo: Paul Jeffrey.

“I am a 2016 graduate of the Loreto Girls’ Secondary School and I now work as Laboratory assistant and stationery manager,” said past student Mary Alual Adeel, “I was brought up in a family where education was not valued and it was very hard for me to study. My father is a polygamist who is too deeply rooted in the culture.”

“In the culture of polygamy, all the girls from the first wife should be married off with a lot of cows to compensate the contribution made by the whole clan to marry the mother. My mother was the first wife and it was very hard for my elder sisters and I to study. My sisters were all married off when I was still young. My mother struggled to take me to school, and she was badly mistreated by my uncles. She struggled to pay my school fees throughout my primary education.”

When the Loreto Sisters first established their mission in South Sudan in 2006 less than 20 girls in the country were found to be in Secondary school education. However, the appetite and desire for secondary education was there. In 2008, the Loreto Sisters set up the Loreto Secondary School in Rumbek town the capital of the Lakes State in the centre of the country. It was the only school of its kind in the region. With places for just 35 students they received over 150 applications. Girls and women are not respected and routinely denied the chance of an education in South Sudan. While tribal and clan disagreements often escalate to violence, girls and women can be caught in the crossfire. With its dormitory accommodation for students, the Loreto Secondary School is a safe haven for its students removing the constant threat to them as they walk to and from school each day.

“In 2011 when I had just finished my primary eight exams, I was about to be married off. My mother still fought for me. I was able to escape marriage when I came to the Loreto Girls’ Secondary School,” said Mary Alual Adeel, “I counted it a great benefit to live in the school because they have dormitory. Otherwise I would have been married off. Because of the dormitory school I have an opportunity to live and work in Loreto Girls’ Secondary School since my Parents live 100 miles away from Rumbek town. I am very grateful to all our supporters as many girls with similar problems are able to be helped today by the Loreto sisters.”

Many girls arrive with a lot of fear about girls from other parts of the country. Some of the misinformation they have heard is that some girls will eat them while others will stab them or ignore them. By living together, the girls learn to study, play sports and debate with each other. The girls become friends with one another and some even visit the homes of one another. In doing this the preconceived ideas of other ethnic groups instilled in them by their elders and families are slowly changing. This type of living experience is key to changing the political and social dynamics in South Sudan as a whole.

During the last ten years, the Loreto Secondary School has helped to transform the lives of 1,200 students from across the country representing 64 ethnic groups. Yomina Mami Sabit is one of these students whose life and outlook has been transformed as a result of attending the school. “I am determined and motivated because I know the benefits of education. All along I did not know that a girl like me can just stand up in front of people especially men and talk and discuss something with them. It was believed disrespectful in our culture for a girl to discuss, participate or express an opinion to the public. But when I came to the Loreto Girls’ Secondary School, I was amazed to see girls competing with boys during debating time. Through encouragement I found the courage and gained the confidence to speak in public,” said Yomina Mami Sabit.