David Schroeder The Afro International
As a seven-year-old boy Jacob Deng fled his village in southern Sudan, Duk Padiet, in the province of Jonglei, narrowly escaping the death and destruction brought by militias from the north. The trek was a harrowing journey first to Ethiopia, and then back through Sudan to a massive refugee camp in Kenya called Kakuma. As one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, he lived in Kakuma for over a decade. Realizing the need for an education, Jacob used his entrepreneurial skills to get to a boarding school in Kenya, and later made arrangements to come to Canada as a refugee. He has lived in Halifax since 2003 with his wife Jenty and their two young boys.
Jacob’s two top priorities have been to help people in South Sudan, especially children suffering from years of devastation, and to continue working on his own education. Nothing can change in South Sudan unless children receive an education, so in 2004 Jacob founded Wadeng Wings of Hope in Nova Scotia to build a primary school in Duk Padiet. Five years later, Wadeng, with a committed board of directors and volunteers, is poised to realize his dream. Many people have given generously, even before Wadeng became a registered charity with CRA early in 2008, and these grass-roots donations have allowed the first stages of the projects to be fulfilled.
Building the school is not Wadeng’s only project. Jacob returned to Duk Padiet at the end of 2005 for the first time in eighteen years, and discussed the needs of the community with village elders. Realizing it would take time to complete the school and get qualified teachers in place, Wadeng started a campaign to provide the most needy people in the community with goats, a source of nutrition with economic value. Clean water will be essential for the school, which will also serve as a wellness centre, and the drilling of the well is now complete. Children attending the school will need uniforms, especially girls, whose lack of clothing can prevent them from attending school, and a sewing centre has been created to make these uniforms. This will be very much expanded so uniforms can be sold elsewhere, creating a profitable enterprise that will ultimately provide the financial sustainability for the school.
Canadians know about Darfur, the vast and ravaged area of western Sudan, but they generally do not know that southern Sudan experienced the same devastation for two decades until 2005. Since the peace accord in 2005 the south has started to rebuild, but progress has been painfully slow. Many organizations are actively assisting, including the UN, UNICEF, and many other NGOs, and this help includes implementing plans for education and building schools.
South Sudan still has the worst record of any country in the world for providing education (barely 20% of the children go to school), and the situation is especially dire for girls, who constitute a tiny percentage of the few who can go. A fair number of under-the-trees schools exist, but very few have qualified teachers. In Duk County alone there are 5,000 children receiving little or no education. Ultimately Wadeng would like to provide vocational schools as well, but primary schools must be the first step.
The next step is to build the school, prepare the teachers, and provide the necessary supplies. UNICEF together with the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) has been developing standards for construction, sanitation, and education, and Wadeng will work in cooperation with these organizations to meet or exceed these standards. The school will be very much a focal point for the entire community, as a centre for community activities as well as providing primary education, and it will also have basic medical facilities in a wellness centre.
The school will make an education equally available to both boys and girls. There are some traditional barriers making this difficult for girls, but many in the community recognize how crucial it is for girls to be educated. Uniforms will help, and the school’s facilities will also make girls feel as welcome as boys. Funding to build the school is not yet in place, and readers are invited to visit Wadeng’s website at www.wadeng.org.