World Refugee Day 2018

The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide hit a new record in 2017: 68.5 million. It’s the equivalent of 44,400 people each day, and means that the world’s forcibly displaced population is now greater than the total population of the United Kingdom.

Two-thirds of all refugees come from 5 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar & Somalia. In March, the conflict in Syria entered its eighth year, with no end in sight. Since August last year, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar. Millions from South Sudan have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Much of our news coverage remains focused on refugee resettlement in developed countries, or rather, on developed countries’ efforts to restrict access, block borders and, most recently, to tear families apart. However, figures show that developing regions host 85% of the world’s refugee population.

At least 1 in 5 refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence. Children make up 52% of refugees worldwide. 9 months on from the Myanmar military crackdown, thousands of Rohingya rape victims are giving birth in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.

The state of our world today will go down in history. Children will study it in classrooms of the future. And yet, as new reports roll in, numbers rise, conflicts persist, disasters strike and crises unfold, it can be difficult just to keep up, never mind to feel hopeful or inspired or useful.

This year, the statistics and stories shared to mark World Refugee Day feel overwhelming to me and the scale of our global crisis feels paralysing. But if nothing else, today is a much-needed reminder to stay informed, and to encourage the people around us to do so too.

This year, World Refugee Day is a reminder that no act is too small and that words have power. It’s a reminder to take breaks from scrolling and shopping and feeling disconnected to give ourselves time to read and listen and do what we can to remain aware. The world needs us to be informed so that we can speak, act and vote in ways that help us move into a future where all people can live in peace and security.

5 Easy Ways to Stay Informed this World Refugee Day:
  1. Read the new UNHCR report on global displacement.
  2. Read articles and look at photographs which highlight the humans behind the numbers.
  3. Read blog posts by women and girls around the world.
  4. Take time to research local organizations supporting refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in your own neighborhood/country, and find out how you can best support them. It could be by donating money, volunteering your time or simply by helping to spread the word about their work.
  5. Celebrate examples of passionate collective action and remember: we are not powerless.

Science and Technology for Girls in South Sudan

Economic inequality is endemic for women in the vast majority of global economies. Many Americans are familiar with the gender pay gap that exists in their own country, but are unaware of the specific challenges faced by women living in the least developed nations. Men in under developed areas have opportunities to learn marketable skills through technical vocational education training (TVET) programs. Governments often provide TVET for citizens to entice corporations to move businesses to regions with a high concentration of skilled workers. In addition to generating tax revenue, these businesses raise the standard of living for its employees.

In many African nations, women are often excluded from the benefits of skilled labor because of a distinct lack of access to technical education. A UNESCO roundtable on the state of female participation in TVET concluded that many of the countries represented did not implement gender equality in these programs. This was due to an absence of support from future employers and educational institutions themselves. The UNESCO roundtable concluded schools that accommodate for women have more success providing future opportunities for women. These accommodations are as simple as providing separate female restrooms and as complex as providing female educators or fostering a tolerant environment. The discussion found that female participation in these programs is hampered by a lack of funding. Some TVET programs are unable to address the pressing issues that affect gender equality because of their lack of financial resources.

Women in underdeveloped regions  face cultural barriers to participating in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. More women enroll in arts and social sciences programs than they do in STEM programs. The disparity in enrollment is largely due to the social structures that push women away from these fields. Female participation in STEM occupations is also negatively affected by societal beliefs about the appropriate roles of women and the expectation that women will live in a traditional, domestic lifestyle. These attitudes are compounded by perceived differences in the ability for men and women to thrive in the workplace that are reinforced in schools. Barriers exist for women looking to better their economic prospects by participating in STEM programs. The aforementioned cycle of discrimination will be left unbroken without a disruption at the grassroots level. Marial Bai Secondary School has acted as the catalyst for progressive change for women in South Sudan by providing students an equal opportunity to learn STEM subjects.

Woodworking girl
Wood working girl

Promoting equality through coeducational learning is central to the philosophy of Marial Bai Secondary School (MBSS). Students of both genders are able to participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities that have vocational applications. The girls are encouraged to participate in all areas of training, including radio and technology repair, woodworking, which are traditionally limited to male students. While agriculture in South Sudan is primarily a domestic task and animal husbandry is a male dominated profession, our young men and women boarding students participate equally. MBSS’s Agriculture Club tends to the school’s on-campus farm. All students learn advanced agricultural techniques as well as bookkeeping, seasonal trends, and livestock care. Their work not only supports the meal program for students and faculty at the school, but also provides them with a unique work experience. The Science Club oversees a community service project that manufactures and distributes candles, school chalk, and girlschalkbody lotion. By taking over all aspects of the production of these items, students learn professional communication and logistical skills as well as the basics of chemical manufacturing.

Our highly qualified teaching staff that includes men and women, moves forward the environment of gender equality. With your support, MBSS can continue to operate as a source of stability for young people, but women in particular, in South Sudan. MBSS’s ability to provide adequate boarding and classroom space will be stretched to its limit as more students come to access its varied learning opportunities. Your donations not only support the students and teachers at MBSS, but also indirectly promote a more equitable future for the South Sundanese people by offering both genders full access to an applied, scientific education.

Reducing the Load: South Sudanese girls at Marial Bai Secondary School

VADF Blog photo1
Photo Credit: VAD Foundation

The civil war in Sudan killed two and a half million people and displaced nearly six million South Sudanese between 1983 and 2005. Despite gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan experienced tragic violence when internal conflict broke out in December 2013. In the six months since the violence began, international companies, government agencies, and aid providers have left the country due to security reasons, eliminating jobs, halting development, and closing schools.

In response to the conflict during the 2014 school year, the VAD Foundation:
• Increased student enrollment by 44%
• Tripled our female enrollment
• Hired an additional six teachers
• Began solar installation providing jobs to locals
• Issued micro loans to female heads of household in Marial Bai

The VAD Foundation creates quality education opportunities in South Sudan through the Marial Bai Secondary School (MBSS), which was constructed in 2009. MBSS is the highest ranking school nationwide that is free for students to attend.

VADF Blog photo2
Photo Credit: VAD Foundation

In South Sudan, a girl spends on average six years enrolled in school. Culturally, young women carry much of the daily labor load of farming, cooking, washing, and fetching water and firewood. Most South Sudanese girls drop out or never enroll in school due to marriage, pregnancy, and duties at home, resulting in less than 1% studying at a secondary level. In order to increase enrollment and opportunities, the VAD Foundation works with the community to bridge the gap between traditional female roles in the community and the benefit of equal education for girls. MBSS currently houses and educates more female students at the secondary level than any other school in South Sudan.

I am in school because I want to get a better job. I don’t want to have the same life as before and I want to increase the quality of my life. Normally a day starts for me at 7am. I get up and bathe but take no tea or breakfast. After school I read and sometimes wash my clothes or hang out and play with other girls. Because I live on the teachers’ compound I do not have the same responsibilities as other girls who live with their families or husbands. Here I am responsible for myself. It is difficult for girls though. Boys have more freedom and girls are the ones responsible for everything. Boys expect everything from you. I would like that girls have equal chance at education. -Mary (3rd year)

The special setting of the MBSS dormitories, allows a young woman to solely concentrate on caring only for herself and her education. In order to remove household duties a girl would have outside of school, cooks oversee the campus nutrition program that feeds all students and staff at MBSS, there is a well yards from the dormitory along with a staff member paid to fetch water. At MBSS she can concentrate on learning. The dorm mothers, visitors, and community members provide special mentoring and act as resources the female students can call on for support individually or in a group session.

Photo Credit: VAD Foundation
Photo Credit: VAD Foundation

“When I was born, conditions here were bad due to the war. My mother would go into the forest to find fruit to feed us, since there was nothing else to eat. I then lived in Khartoum and Kenya away from the violence. I received word earlier this year that my mother was not doing well so I decided to return to this area to be closer to her. When I returned and saw her for the first time, my heart broke. She was living on nothing with no one supporting her. She was forced to eat bark off the trees. I was able to buy her some tea and sorghum, but I worry about her constantly. Sometimes I wish I had been born a boy. As a boy it is easier. I want to pursue my education about all else because I want to be educated so that I can help my mother and make a better life for both her and me.” -Titiana (2013 Graduate)

In supporting the VAD Foundation, you promote peace in the region by educating a young nation, investing in community-driven projects, and empowering locals to provide for their community through sustainable agriculture, public health, and clean water projects. To invest in girls’ education is also to invest in preventing disease, decreasing poverty, and lessening violence. When a woman prospers, her family prospers—when families prosper, whole communities prosper. Donate at www.vadfoundation.org to change a student’s life and make a lasting impact in South Sudan.