There was a lot to cover in a small amount of time in the village. As our bodies started to acclimate to the heat and lack of food we began to get energized to interview and interact more directly with the residents in the village. You can fit alot into an “African” day. The roosters start to crow about 4 AM and the sun rises shortly after that and stays high in the sky for the nex 12 hours. I never wore a watch on the trip and it was amazing how quickly I was telling time by the location of the sun.  We began the day meeting with the teachers and discussing educational needs.

We found the most challenging aspect of sustaining the school is providing enough incentive for educated techers to teach.  Education of any kind in South Sudan is a rare commodity. The few that have made it through secondary school have usually left the country through a sponsorship of someone in the family or a foreigner. When they return they are far more educated than anyone in the village and perhaps than many in the country. Their skills are so highly sought after that keeping them incentivized to stay is a great challenge especially when their is no support from the government.  They stay though, because they cannot afford to continue on with university education. So each step of the way they are back in a stagnant place. It is our challenge to to try to get teachers on the Goverment pay list,  but even that the pay is extremely minimal. Gabriel Bol continues to advocate to the Ministry of Education to pay teachers and put an emphasis on building schools and sustaining them. We ended the meeting by presenting the teachers with pencils and sharpeners for the students.

The challenges are great in the new country and with so much emphasis on security and infrastructure, promises that are made to teachers are rarely kept. The other teachers we encountered have only a primary school education, still valuable in a place where so many are illiterate. Our challenge is to find way to continually train and reward teachers in the village.

I cannot help but mention the incredible understanding I now have of the time, effort and emotion that Gabriel Bol Deng puts into this project. During our trip he worked tirelessly to meet with everyone he could, get opinions from top level officials to teachers and residents of the village, to holding and caring for babies, small children and pregnant women. He also had the added burden of making sure that Cory and I were doing ok and I know that I could not have done this trip without him and all his incredible connections.  His life is split between work and family in the US and work and famly in the village. Wherever we went,  from Juba to Ariang, people greeted us and appreciated us and knew that we were friends of “Bol’s”. Having a complete understanding of the difficulty of his task made the trip that much more meaningful to me.

Next we conducted a meeting with Traditional Birth Attendants. These women have  received this title from carrying the torch of generations past who have had the role. They have little to no training and care for women during birth using methods that were used centuries ago.

Amazingly, many women fair well and the natural remedies and processes used work in many cases. The difficulty is when there is a complication. There are no clinics nearby and,  although there are cars and roads now available, no one has the means to use them. Women are carried on stretchers for hours in the sweltering heat to a clinic where there may or may not receive the care that they need. Clinics we visited in South Sudan store medications that were expired and not refrigerated when necessary.

Cory spent a couple of hours reviewing some basic health care for  emergency situations and best practices during child birth. Training and basic supplies such as latex gloves and suction tubes would make a huge difference in preventing infection and other complications but they are not available to these women.

For two days I met with the group of women that run small business in the village. The businesses are extremely limited,  most making tea or sell tobacco. Ariang and the surrounding villages have 10,000 residents and some of them do have small income that can filter back into the economy of the community if the goods are there.

The first meeting had over 50 women and was a bit overwhelming but the next day we gathered a smaller respresentation who could discuss the economic needs and current situation of the market in the village. Hope for Ariang’s Education project provides income for many who work on brick building and other construction aspects of the project.

The women explained that people are going to the neighboring town of Akon to buy bread and Chipati and felt that if they had the access to an oven to make these items that the money would stay in the village and provide them with a small income to help feed their families.

We discussed forming a coop wth all the small businesses to use an oven to make the new producst for the village. The ideas kept flowing and we left many options to evaluate. It was exciting to see the women hopeful and to know that the Sudan Canvas Project would be able to begin to provide for the fincancing of a project that the women would take owenership of. We explained that the purpose was to begin something sustainable by them, that they could grow and develop and that the project would be a partnership between the women of Ariang and the Sudan Canvas Painters and donors in the US.

The feeling of hope became palpable. Gabriel and I left knowing that we would be propelled to move forward with the project so we could make a small difference in the lives of the women. Knowing that making a difference in their lives directly affects the lives and health of the children and ther ability to attend school.

I have come to realize more than ever that the education project, health nutrition and sustainability of business are all interwoven to make the community develop. We cannot look at one alone. Cory and I ralized the importance of our advocacy work would not just revolved around discussing conflicts and the North but also putting pressure on the Southern Government to address these issues and invest in systems to move them forward.

Our meeting ended with some ceremonious dancing. By participating we showed the women that we stand in solidarity with them, their hopes and their culture. …and I know Gabriel got a kick out of it too!