Yesterday Valentino Achak Deng took the stage during the Plenary on Harnessing Human Potential to give a progress report on his foundation's 2007 CGI commitment, in partnership with the M. Night Shyamalan Foundation and Jolie-Pitt Foundation, to construct and administer an 18-building community education complex in the town of Marial Bai in Southern Sudan. I found his presentation very inspiring (his passion for bringing secondary school education to Southern Sudan was so heartfelt that I even got tears in my eyes).
One of the critiques I hear about CGI is concern that the many commitments pledged at the annual meetings are just talk, so it was also good to hear about action that has been taken, which has led to real world success.
Valentino Achak Deng with students of the Marial Bai Secondary School. (via Marial Bai Secondary School – Summer 2010 Photo Album)
President Clinton introduced Achak Deng by reminding the crowd that Southern Sudan emerged from a horrible civil war in 2005, and while the region has been rebuilding, progress has been difficult to make. He noted that nearly half of primary school-age girls do not have access to a primary school; and, a recent study found that more than half are more likely to die in childbirth than make it to secondary school. Achak Deng, when he took the stage, further stressed the importance of secondary education; he said that even if girls gain access to a primary school education, less than 1% succeed on to high school. The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation (VAD) works to improve these statistics and increase access to secondary education to all students in Southern Sudan, and in particular to Sudanese girls. In 2009 they finished building the "first fully functioning high school in Southern Sudan": The Marial Bai Secondary School.
The Math and Sciences Building at Marial Bai Secondary School. (via THE MARIAL BAI SECONDARY SCHOOL – Photos from our new school in Southern Sudan!)
Achak Deng reported that Marial Bai boasts a library with 20,000 books, a teacher training program, and dormitories for 100 female students, which creates a safe environment for girls to live (which is important for providing an alternative to early marriage). He said that thousands of students are applying to attend the school, and their student body has grown to 300 students in one year. Achak Deng further announced that VAD's goal is to establish ten more secondary schools in Sudan. He was very optimistic about this and emphasized to the audience of potential donors that it costs only $300,000 and takes only one year to create a basic high school in Southern Sudan. Hopefully Marial Bai is just the first of many high schools for Southern Sudan that works to empower girls and women and boys and men with a secondary education.
Students from Marial Bai Secondary School sing during a celebration for national Girls' Education Day. (via Marial Bai Secondary School – Summer 2010 Photo Album)
It's indeed a heartfelt development. I have also built a Secondary School in Rumbek, Sudan and it has so far impacted the lives of many young people. We have 137 students from 9-11 grades, of whom 37 are girls. We don't have dormitories yet but hopefully with God will we will build them soon.
Education in Southern Sudan is the only way to fight poverty and reduce conflict among the communities.
For more information, please visit us at www.hopeforhumanityinc.org
I am proud of Achak Deng, he is a motivated young man and we need more people like him in Southern Sudan.