"We now have more girls than boys in the school," says headmaster Lokang Augustine Okocha.
School officials in South Sudan say a monthly take-home food ration from the World Food Programme (WFP) has helped to reduce the number of female students dropping out of school.
TORIT – Education will be critical as the world’s newest country builds its future, and South Sudan’s girls are getting a better chance at an education thanks to WFP.
WFP supports girls through what is known as the “Girls’ Incentive,” which is designed to encourage girls’ enrolment in school and keep them attending class regularly. The incentive is offered mainly in states identified as having the lowest rates of enrolment for girls in primary schools.
The girls from grades 3-8 who are allowed by their parents to attend classes for at least 20 out of 22 days in a school calendar month receive a 9.9 kilograms of cereal and 3.6 kilograms of vegetable oil. The food serves as an incentive to the parents, who generally prefer to send boys to school, while girls stay home to work, help their families with cooking or are married off early in exchange for bride-price.
“We have witnessed a real increase in the number of girls that have enrolled and stayed in school since we started providing food through the (girls’) incentive,” says Lokang Augustine Okocha, the director of studies at Redeemed Generation Academy in Torit, the capital of Eastern Equatoria State.
“We now have more girls than boys in the school,” he adds.
The initiative aims to reach more than 4,200 girls in 28 schools in Eastern Equatoria state. Experts say it contributes to raising the age at which girls marry or have children.
“This food really encourages our parent to keep us in school so that we can read and become someone great in future,” says Viola Ituk, a 14-year-old pupil at Redeemed Generation Academy.
Viola, who wants to become a doctor when she grows up, believes the initiative has helped to keep girls in her town from being forced into early marriage. She thinks the programme should be sustained to ensure that more women in the country are educated to stand a chance of taking on leadership roles.
More than 70 percent of South Sudan’s about 9.5 million people are illiterate with only 16 percent of the women able to read and write.
With studies showing that an extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 percent to 20 percent, and that an educated mother’s family is likely to have a better nutritional status than an uneducated one’s, WFP is committed to the girls incentive pilot as part of its effort towards South Sudan’s longer-term development.
"Breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty at its roots begins with women," says Chris Nikoi, the WFP South Sudan Country Director. "This is why we are providing take home rations to support families to ensure that young girls in poor households stay in school longer, marry later and have healthier children."
In 2012, WFP has so far reached 29,362 South Sudanese girls under the girls’ incentive pilot in the states of Eastern Equatoria (EES), Jonglei, Lakes, Northern Bahr el Ghazal (NBEG), Unity, Upper Nile and Warrap.