My first internship-week has been quite intense. I observed a lot, I took a lot of notes, I went to a lot of meetings with the local authorities but, most importantly, I went “to the field”. In the slang of my office, “going to the field” means to visit the schools in the surrounding villages of the counties of Yei, Morobo and Lainya where Ibis implements its ALP programme. ALP stands for Accelerated Learning Programme, since it condenses the normal 8 years of primary school into 4, so that over-age children who couldn’t study during the war, can finally have access to basic education.
According to Ibis’ work-plan, the last week was dedicated to what’s called “pre-planning”. Pre-planning is done by the teachers, who have been trained according to the vision of the ALP system and thus are called ALP teachers, who schematize the entire academic year before lesson start (and lessons will actually start this week).
So me and Abdu were in charge to go around the schools of Yei county, which are not called schools but ALP centres, to check whether the teachers were doing their job or not.
We started at 10 and we finish at 17, and we managed to visit 7 ALP centres. The impression that I got was quite various, since some centres were functioning well, the head-master looked committed and the teachers were relentlessly scheming what they will teach to their ALP learners, whereas others registered a poor enrolment rate and teachers haven’t even shown up.
Education is considered by the government of
South Sudan as
an effective tool to build the nation of this newly born state, and since 2007,
Ibis is trying to mobilize and sensitize people on how education can free frompoverty, empower people and help to achieve individual and collective rights. But
thing are not that easy, an illiteracy rate up to 85% cannot be easily wiped
out and the burden of 21 years-war is still on the shoulder of the South
That’s why cases like the Jombu ALP Centre really makes you hope for the better.
Jombu ALP Centre is constituted of two permanent building constructed by the parents of the learners, which are located behind the shadow of a huge tree where we found the teachers who were completing their pre-planning. The head-master, a wise man with a wise barb, was proud to say that a conspicuous amount of learners have already registered, and that the community is very keen on raising the mudded walls of a third building to host future students. The role of the community is quite crucial in ALP: if the community perceives the centre, and thus the entire ALP programme as its own, it will cherishes for it, even when Ibis will leave. “It’s a matter of psychological ownership” as Abdu says.
I will be curious to come next week and see the learners in their classroom. Abdu explains me that the majority of the learners are demobilized child soldiers, children without parents, young mothers, between 12 and 18 years of age, who have already a busy life working as farmers or pastoralists. For this reason, ALP classes start in the afternoon to give the learners time to do their jobs in the morning and last three hours, to allow them to go back home to take care of their children.
Despite a certain drop-out rate, learners are usually so passionate about ALP teaching system that end up becoming teachers themselves after having finished their last fourth year, so that a quality education could be guaranteed to the generation to come.
South Sudan, the appointment of qualified teacher is
quite a big challenge as well as the involvement of girls in learning and
teaching activities, since early marriages, early pregnancies and a general
chauvinist culture is the cause of a big gender gap. Therefore, Ibis’ gender policy is used as the main
reference point in ALP programme and even beyond that. Our office in Yei has in
fact a female driver, Mariam, who raises quite a fuss every time she takes us
around, since Yei people are not that used to see a woman at the wheel.
First night out of Yei or the noises of nature
In my first week-internship I already had the opportunity to sleep “in the field”. This time I was with James, my other colleague whom I share the office with, and Felix Amule, Central Equatoria State Education Coordinator, a key person in the transfer management of the ALP programme that will be given into the hand of the government by August 31st. This time we went to Lainya county to visit the ALP centres in the early afternoon and to have a meeting with Lainya Commissioner the morning after.
Surprisingly our visits to the centres finished quite early, around 17 pm, so we had nothing to do but go to our guesthouse.
Here I learnt that:
-you don’t need to book in advance a guesthouse which is in the middle of the countryside since the chance to have guests is quite low;
-I always took modernity as granted, but running water and electric light are not things you can easily find everywhere;
Fortunately I am in Yei since no more than 2 weeks, so James has a lot of questions to ask me to kill time before dinner. Here people are very catholic, so I always make a good impression saying that I am from
Italy where the is. James
seems quite inspired by my story so it turns on his cell-phone to listen to a gospel
song that says “…Jesus has changed the rhythm of my heart…”. Vatican city
Jesus has surely changed the rhythm of his heart but wasn’t able to change the rhythm of this song since I have been listening to if for the last two hours, given that James has fallen asleep with his cell-phone on his belly.
I am not only hypnotized by the music, but also from the continual coming and going of the owner of the guesthouse, a Kenyan woman who, water-can on the top of her hand, goes back and forth between the nearby borehole and the guesthouse, to fill the water that her guests will need. But this is how it works in
a place that looks like the world when it was born, with red soil that hasn’t
been paved and green trees now burnt by the dry season and dark nights without street
lamps. I am scared to walk without knowing where I put my feet, but my strategy
is to selfishly walk behind James, so that he will be the first to fall down in
the ridges of the land.
But nobody falls and we make it to Lainya town which actually wasn’t that far. Here we have dinner with cow beans accompanied with rice, matoke (a puree made out of a green banana, the matoke) and posho (which is a puree made out of I don’t know what). Everything tastes delicious and I am happy to go back and to brush my teeth under an enormous starry sky.
I found out that nature can also be very noisy since cicadas, frogs, dogs, roosters,
take you company in the night and wake you in the morning. However, I am sort
of fresh and clean for my meeting and we reach the office of the commissioner
after a breakfast with chapatti and
It’s my third meeting with authorities since I am here, and I must confess that these commissioner look scary at first sight. They are big, serious, silent and wear a military uniform. But when they finally open their mouth, always at the end, they are actually nice and smiling. The meeting with the Lainya commissioner is actually the best of the tree I took part to. He seems in fact quite an enlightened man, really committed to implement the Memorandum of Understanding that has been recently signed between Ibis and
One of the nice things about going to the field is that you can buy vegetable or fruit from the street-seller on the side of the road. I buy a bag of cassava, a tuber largely used in
South Sudan, that I will
eat once back home together with a good beer.