Every Tuesday morning, while her younger brother and sisters are still climbing into their school uniforms, Suku Jane Simon, 16, climbs onto a chair at Southern Sudan Radio, adjusts a pair of headphones and coolly announces the start of her own broadcast.
“I advise every child – girl and boy – to go to school,” she says into the microphone.
“Education is the key. When I see a girl who does not go to school, I say to her, ‘My sister, let us go to school, for you are poor in mind.’”
Back to the classroom
The programme, ‘Children’s Voices,’ is a weekly feature at Southern Sudan Radio. Co-hosted by students and teachers, the broadcast is just one of many activities organized by the local chapter of the Girls’ Education Movement (GEM), a grassroots initiative that promotes equality in education through child participation.
Suku, who will graduate in 2008 from Juba Day Secondary School, is a student leader of her school’s GEM club and one of its most visible faces. Using music, drama and dance to highlight the importance of education, the UNICEF-supported club stages performances around Juba and works to persuade out-of-school children to come back to the classroom.
In addition to the radio broadcast, Suku and her classmates host a weekly programme on Juba Television and conduct outreach sessions in the local market, where they encourage working children to stay in school.
A legacy of poverty
“We have to keep informing them, telling them to wake up and go for education, because education is helping us,” Suku says. “If she is ready to sing, then take her there. A child is ready to hear your advice because you are the same size.”
In Southern Sudan, where two decades of civil war have devastated national infrastructure and bequeathed a legacy of extreme poverty, Suku’s words carry a special resonance. Very few girls here finish eight years of primary school. Hundreds of thousands of children do not attend school at all, while early marriage, cultural traditions and the lack of adequate school facilities pose particular challenges for girls.
Like many of her peers, Suku fled Southern Sudan during the war. Educated at a refugee camp in Uganda, she returned to Juba with her family following the signing of the 2005 peace agreement.
Today, Suku is turning the painful experiences of the past into positive plans for the future. Already fluent in four languages, she hopes to use her GEM activities as a platform to becoming a professional journalist.
“We have seen a dramatic change in Suku since she started with GEM,” says the headmaster at Juba Day Secondary School. “She is doing so well in school, and she is so well-liked. Through GEM, it seems she has gotten confidence in herself.