In July and August, two delegations from the Stromme Foundation travelled to Kuron from Juba in South Sudan to hear directly from the community about the development and education projects they support. The ninety-minute flight would be an impossible journey for the visiting team to do by road.
Stromme Foundation is a Norwegian organisation that works through partners to champion education as a means of development in remote and hard to reach communities across East Africa. They deliver a range of activities on the ground with a threefold focus on building strong societies, ensuring inclusive quality education, and creating livelihoods and job opportunities.
In a remote area of the Eastern Equatoria State in South Sudan, Stromme are working with Holy Trinity Peace Village Kuron, to support projects for early childhood development, inclusive education and women’s livelihood support. The village boast three nursery schools, a primary school and now a secondary school. For the Peace Village Kuron, founded in 2005 by Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban, education is at the heart of the strategies deployed to harness the Bishop’s vision for a new peaceful South Sudan.
For Stromme Foundation, insecurity and impassable roads make the projects in Kuron some of the most challenging reach. Which is why in July and August, two separate teams flew to the village with MAF to monitor the progress of the programmes. Onboard the first flight was Stromme’s May Barbara Kamoga who has made this trip from Stromme’s regional headquarters in Kampala and flown with MAF several times before. As she stepped off the plane at the airstrip in Kuron, May explained that in addition to the education projects, Stromme also support a women’s savings group and a vocational skills training program. On this visit, she says, the delegation will be meeting students and parents and talking to the team on the ground.
The disembarking passengers are met from the plane by the Bonga girls. The teenagers sing and dance in a circle around the plane, proudly showcasing their traditional Toposa culture and costume. The team pause to enjoy the spectacle and thank the girls for their greeting, before jumping into a waiting car.
The first stop is a nursery school a few minutes’ drive from the airstrip. Parents and beneficiaries have been told about the visit and they have arranged consultation groups to hear from the beneficiaries.
There is sorghum boiling in the kitchen ready for the children’s lunch. The daily provision of food is always a big incentive, this year even more so, because the rains have come late, meaning the hunger gap, the time between the new harvest supplies, is even longer than usual. World Food Programme rations have been cut so food can be diverted to drought struck Somalia and Ethiopia where the famine is beginning to bite.
Children start school almost as soon as they can walk in South Sudan. In the shaded end of the building, the school’s youngest students are assembled. Many are barely more than toddlers. Hopefully they won’t remember a time before they went to school.
In the first classroom, colourful posters adorn the walls. May and her colleges greet the students and watch as the teachers drill them in their studies. Today they are learning to count from one to ten. The young students are keen to show what they have learned, clapping and encouraging one another as they each take their turn.
Older children in a second class are learning English vocabulary. They raise their hands to name familiar items drawn on the blackboard including a bed, mat, car and plane.
Outside, some of the teachers have gathered some of the parents to share their feedback via a translator. The team listen intently, notebooks in hand as they hear what the fathers have to say. When they are finished, the Stromme team thank the parents for their honest feedback and encourage them to keep sending their children to school.
With a tight schedule to keep, the team jump back in the car to continue. Bumping past fields of sorghum which are green despite the lack of rain.
The car pulls into a traditional settlement where some of the Toposa girls live together in a coral of tukuls protected by a thornbush fence. Most of the older girls have gathered at the main campus a few miles away. Only a few of the younger girls at the compound greet their visitors. In a community of small huts raised off the ground, accessed by ladders, are the sleeping quarters where the girls are kept safe at night. It is an ancient and traditional lifestyle that has served the community well. Outside the compound, the delegation take time to greet and encourage the Toposa men who have gathered under a tree.
The final stop is the Peace Village headquarters where the visitors are met by a mass of dancers and women’s choirs including the bonga girls and women who are enrolled in the savings group that Stromme supports. The team will hold consultations with both groups starting with the teenagers.
The Bonga girls gather on a mat to talk to the team.The informal education initiative targets girls between the ages of 13 to 19 who may not have had the chance to go to school. A couple of times a week they are brought together by an older girls known as an animator, who helps to shape learning and discussion within the group.
They hear from Loge, a teenager who shares via a translator what being part of the Bonga girls group means to her. ‘I joined the Bonga girl in 2021 and am happy to be part of Bonga. My favourite thing about the Bonga programme is the teaching on hygiene,’ Loge explains. ‘I am thankful that we have some sanitary pads that we have never been using before. This has helped us to be clean. Also, we have learned to make them and can sell what we make at the market.’
Loge says she’s learnt about cooking, farming and beadmaking through the group. Her parents have been supportive and are happy that she’s part of the group. This is not the case for other girls she says. There are negative attitudes toward the group from some of the older people saying that it encourages prostitution. In the Toposa culture girls don’t go out on their own, people also fear that a programme like this can lead to girls misbehaving.
Loge says she’d like encourage other girls to join the group. ‘I would say that the group has a bigger benefit for the future. You will get some skills that will help you for the future. What we are learning is helping us,’ she says.
The Stromme team welcome Loge’s feedback. They encourage her to keep attending and use every opportunity to better herself. 'Many other girls haven’t had this chance and are missing what you have learnt personal hygiene and the skills you have gained. Encourage them to join so they can also learn how to live well with their parents and siblings,’ they tell Loge.
After a tour around the nearby primary school, the team meet with the recently established ladies savings group. It is early days for the project and so far only four loans have been given and only one paid back. The scheme, allows women, who often bear sole responsibility for supporting their children, to start small business and take advantage of opportunities to earn an income.
The car bumps its way back to the airstrip under a canopy of rainclouds. The light drizzle isn’t heavy enough to keep the MAF plane on the ground as the colleagues jump back on board for the flight back to Juba. With only a short time on the ground, and many more projects to see, May wishes they’d had more time. The team have done what they set out to achieve, however, and are assured of the continuing need for the work.
Development requires a long-term vision and commitment. Each year, as more and more students start school, receive informal education or receive business start-up loans through community savings schemes, the visions of a stronger, healthier, more inclusive community in Kuron becomes one step closer.