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Such is their eagerness for education, Elizabeth Ayen teaches students under a tree in a school compound in Rumbek, South Sudan. Construction of more classrooms is under way, but in the meantime some classes have to take place outside. The school is run by Misean Cara member the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters). Elizabeth is a graduate of the Loreto Secondary School in the same location, and plans to become a nurse. “If you educate a woman you educate a nation. And our new nation needs education. So I would love to be able to help women learn more about being pregnant and giving birth,” says Elizabeth. Photo: Paul Jeffrey.

Our members have been delivering quality education in developing countries for generations, often starting with nothing other than expertise, vision and courage. Our education work has three dimensions. Firstly, it supports initiatives that make it possible or easier for vulnerable children and adults to access education. Secondly, it works to increase the quality of education and learning outcomes for students, with a particular emphasis on teacher training. Finally, with a view to the long term, it supports projects that contribute to the overall strengthening of education systems.

In South Sudan, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters) plays a significant role in advocating for girl child protection and education in the communities of Maker Kuei and Rumbek. The girls’ secondary school, run by the Sisters, engages with local government, traditional leaders, religious and non-governmental stakeholders to oppose forced marriage. Students are enrolled through a process which involves a contract between the student, a male family member and the school. The agreement stipulates that the student is entering a 4-5 year school programme and seeks the family’s explicit support for the full period. The contract strengthens the school’s ability to protect girls against forced marriage. These efforts are supported by the Rumbek Diocese, the State Ministry of Education, the Governor’s office, Payam (sub-county) and community level tribal leadership.

In late 2018, there were two instances of girls whose families had contracted marriage for them without their involvement or consent. The girls wanted to complete their education and asked the Sisters for help. They did not go home during the Christmas break, choosing to stay in the safety of the school compound. Several meetings were held with various stakeholders and both cases were eventually settled in favour of the girls completing their education. In one case, the Sisters had to engage the help of the Deputy Governor who ruled that the girl had the right to complete the remaining two years of her schooling.