New lives in South Sudan

This was the line that stuck in my head when I went to the Republic of South Sudan last year: a 15-year-old girl has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than getting an education. South Sudan is Africa’s newest country, after it seceded from the north in a referendum last July. It is one of Africa’s poorest countries, too, still suffering outbreaks of fighting and bombing in the post-independence hangover of disputes over oil revenue and border demarcation. Education is one of the ways it plans to improve its future: right now fewer than 50 per cent of children go to school for more than five years and 90 per cent of women cannot read or write. Girls are still expected to marry and not to have careers of their own. So I was surprised to find a school where women are being taught to rebuild their country – literally.

The Don Bosco school in Wau, about 400 miles (643 km) north-west of the capital, Juba, is a vocational centre where young men and women can study mechanics, electrical engineering, building, woodwork, printing and IT. The Don Bosco charity was founded 150 years ago and supports young people in schools and projects all over the world. Often they link with other charities, such as Oxfam, which works with 10 schools in the area, training female teachers and running after-school girls’ clubs, where girls can talk about the problems they face.

Esther Awea (centre) working on automotive parts

Girls at Don Bosco are still very much in the minority – only 26 out of 336 students – but they are making a difference. Esther Awea has chosen a mechanics course. “There aren’t many mechanics around here, and only one female mechanic in town. I am the only girl in my class but of course I’d like other girls to join. The boys want that, too. They want us to be equal.” Monica Nunu grew up in Khartoum, but when her family moved south in 2010, and could not afford university fees, she chose a design and printing course. “When I finish I can easily get a job, even have my own business. I love the designing part. It makes me very happy.”

Rebecca Sadia is learning how to plan and build a house. She went to her local village primary school, but later moved to Wau, where she lives with her married sisters, and enrolled at Don Bosco. She wants to work for a construction company. “When I get a job, then I’ll be married. It’s a little bit unusual in South Sudan.”

Monica Nunu chose a design and printing course

Laura Pannack is a British photographer based in London. She works with several international charities as well as continuing her personal projects.

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