Every year, the world marks the important role of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in our everday lives by organising educational events aimed at raising awareness of this little-known discipline. In South Sudan, WFP used the celebration at the end of November to encourage girls to learn more about geography but also, more generally, to stay in school and pursue their studies.
JUBA – On a hot Thursday morning at Mayo Girls Primary School in Juba, pupils gathered for a new take on geography, presented by experts who are acutely aware of the important role this discipline has in a country like South Sudan.
To mark GIS Day, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Logistics Cluster, with the support of esri, and in partnership with the country’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology organised a presentation on how GIS affects daily lives.
“This day is not just about maps and geographical locations,” said Nadika Senadheera, GIS officer for WFP South Sudan. “This is an awareness programme about geography and how you can get involved with it, and then what you can do with it,” she added.
Students heard how WFP relies heavily on GIS to identify accessibility constraints and to map its activities throughout South Sudan, a large country with poor infrastructure and significant humanitarian needs after decades of conflict.
Senadheera and her colleagues used presentations and quizes to explain how a sound knowledge of geography and GIS enables people to locate places; produce and read maps; learn about other people and climatic conditions; and basically understand how the world works.
“If you master geography, you will know when it’s the right time for planting crops and this will lead to abundant food supply,” Kenyang Cirr Dut, director of the school feeding department at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, told the pupils.
Since 1999, GIS Day has been marked through grassroots educational events, which allow GIS users to reach out to schools, businesses and the general public and explain what they do, and how they do it. For example, GIS are key components in producing maps used by humanitarian agencies all over the world.
In South Sudan, WFP also used GIS Day to encourage girls to take an interest in geography, but also, more broadly, to pursue their studies.
Through its Food for Education activities – school meals and take-home rations for girls – WFP seeks to support government efforts to improve enrolment and attendance rates among girls, and reduce gender disparity in schools.
WFP also runs a 'Girls’ Incentive' scheme to encourage girls to attend classes regularly. Under the scheme, food rations are offered to girls from grades 3-8 who attend classes for at least 20 out of 22 days in a school calendar month in states identified as having the lowest rates of enrolment for girls in primary schools.
The food serves as an incentive to parents, who generally send boys to school while keeping girls at home to carry out chores. Girls are also often married early so that the family can benefit from the bride-price or dowry paid by the groom.
“Apart from distributing food to vulnerable people like refugees, WFP encourages children to go school,” Zahra Lillian Mokgosi, the head of WFP's Food for Education team in South Sudan, told the pupils. “We want to encourage you girls to stay in school, take your studies seriously, shun early marriages and not drop out of school,” she added.
Story by George Fominyen, WFP South Sudan.