Rose was born near Rumbek in the early 70’s. She was also born with a disability that affected both her legs and because of this, her parents did not feel that she would fetch a large dowry.
Rose explains that in the past and even today, in some communities, women are valued only for the dowry they will bring to their family through marriage. People believe that educated women are ‘spoiled’ and are equivalent to ‘behave like prostitutes’, tarnishing their reputation and devaluing their dowry value. Being a disabled woman means that you have no dowry value at all and it’s because of this reason, her father decided to allow her to attend school. Only Rose out of all her sisters was allowed to attend school, the others were kept at home, ‘ignorant’, so as to be married off for high dowries.
Rose attended a school run by a local church group who also ran many other projects in her community. Rose, along with 25 other girls, stayed at the boarding school and was given the chance to learn.
Rose was still in school when the previous civil war broke out in the 1980’s. Her community continually came under attack. She couldn’t run because of her disability, so the young boys would carry her on their backs. Together they travelled 75 miles to the relative safety of a bush camp. “We would branch out and run into the bush, just moving on like that,” she recalls.
“The war took us away from school. We were in school when soldiers reached our area, so we ran outside to the bush where there was nothing. We went out into the bush in 1985 and stayed there up to 1999, when I came to Rumbek.”
Life in the camp was hard and Rose married a soldier in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. She had nine children with him. However, eight of them died during the war, due to lack of food, water and healthcare. Mary, her youngest, was the only one to survive.
Rose explains she was the second wife to her husband. He married three other women after her and used the cattle that she owned as dowry for his other wives. “Life was very complicated living with my husband, the other wives and no more peace in the country,” she tells us. She felt her education was something she could hold onto, so she took it upon herself to teach the children whilst they were hiding in the bush, keeping hope for a better future alive.
When the civil war ended, Rose returned to Rumbek, but she was too old to go back to school. She started seeking out other learning opportunities. Even though her 6 years of education made her one of the most educated women in her community, she still had a thirst for knowledge.
It’s for people like Rose that Africa Educational Trust created Speak-Up. Speak-Up is a twice-weekly radio education programme aimed at people who missed out on formal schooling. The 6-month long programme teaches basic English, including speaking, reading and writing through discussions on useful topics ranging from health to agriculture to human rights. Lessons are broadcast regularly and for people eager to acquire qualifications, it’s possible to join a certified course based on the programme. Speak-Up is easy for Rose to take part in because she doesn’t have to struggle with travelling to classes. Even though civil war has returned to South Sudan, broadcasted lesson can continue despite the conflict.
When asked why Rose was listening to the Speak-Up, she explained “During the war, I missed out on my education, so I have been trying hard to catch up and improve my English. I like the radio training because I am finally learning to speak English. I am also able to talk to more people in Rumbek and support my daughter in her education.”
Rose’s husband passed away in 2009, but Rose had long given up on his support. Rose’s main aim now is to provide for her only remaining daughter Mary and make sure she has the best education possible.
She says, “I now stay with my daughter Mary and have begun a new life. When Mary came to me and said – ‘Mama, I want to learn’ – I felt so proud. Women have been suffering because the culture does not know the importance of girls and women. Girls are married, basically sold away, on the value of how many cows they will fetch for the family. Women are only considered important when they are pregnant and when they are cooking, that’s all!”
Rose doesn’t want this fate for Mary. In their home on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, Rose and Mary listen to the radio programme together. The programme helps them both, giving Rose a second chance to learn and Mary also finds it is helpful for improving her English studies.
“I want to succeed in making this life better! I have some big plans and ideas on moving forward.”
Since 2013, civil war has once again threatened Rose’s and Mary’s dream. Africa Educational Trust continues to work hard to ensure that education doesn’t have to end when conflict begins. We continue to support people in acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to improve their lives.
Radio lessons are low-cost, low-profile ways to provide lessons. This makes them perfect to reach large numbers of people, even when conflict continues to plague a region.
Africa Educational Trust has been using radio broadcasts and pre-recorded lessons to provide basic literacy and numeracy education across the regions where we work for over 15 years.
Rose’s story was featured in our BBC Radio 4 Appeal in June 2017.
John lost family and his home to conflict, but he sees education as the way forward.