According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), South Sudan has the highest rate of illiteracy in the world with more than 70% of the population being unable to read.
During the International Literacy Day on 8th September 2014, Salah Khalid who is the UNESCO representative in the Republic of South Sudan, said that “For the country that needs to be developed, needs to be built, you need literate, educated youth.”
In this vein then, what steps are being taken to increase literacy in this fairly new nation?
A lot actually. This nation is determined to wage a raging battle against illiteracy starting with an initiative on radio-based learning. The project, known as Learning Village is a product of the Government of South Sudan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. Targeting primary school children up to fourth grade, the Learning Village focuses on local language literacy, English, mathematics and life skills. Solar-powered radio sets are used to play pre-recorded programmes that are broadcasted on local radio stations. Digital MP3 players substitute radios in areas without access to transmission signals.
Another project known as Radio-Based Education for All (RABEA) targets audiences with various levels of English language skills, focusing on arithmetic, health, and civic education programmes such as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR). Elections, land ownership, democracy and women’s rights also form part of the curriculum.
South Sudanese in the diaspora are also speaking out on the issue to help their country men and women back home. An example is a group of South Sudanese models in New York. Mari Malek, Nykhor Paul and Rina Kara, among with other models along with photographer Chris Watts put together a photo shoot for an initiative called Stand 4 Education. This is their way of putting a voice to the civil war ripping their home country apart and the high illiteracy rate that deters South Sudanese women like themselves from mobilizing together in attempts to better themselves through education.
The sisterhood was founded by Malek, a model and DJ. She brought together well known faces in the modelling industry such as Nykhor and Grace Bol who were refugees themselves. These women have made it big in the world, and not only in the fashion industry.
They have conquered other areas such as Business, Science and Film. One of them, Rina Kara, calls herself the ‘science girl’ and obtained a Master’s degree Columbia University in Biotechnology and is currently working on her Doctorate in Biomedical Science. As Malek said, they are not just pretty faces but they have identities which they are using to spread the South Sudan story and raise awareness on their country’s struggle with illiteracy.
The photos from the shoot were auctioned on February 13th 2015 in order to raise funds for the Stand 4 Education initiative. The portraits were aptly named Roots of South Sudan.