August 15th, 2013
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth To Be a Mother: Childbirth in South Sudan
“The thinly framed father sat mesmerised by his fragile wife and baby as they lay huddled amidst dirty sheets on their metal framed bed. Born a few weeks early, the baby seemed no bigger than a tiny sack of sugar. Untrained staff in the ramshackle, dust covered ward had suggested letting the baby die. They thought it would be easier to throw it away than to give hope. A rare, visiting nurse saw the child and showed the father how to feed it with sugar and water until it could breast feed. She tied the baby to the mother to keep it warm. Not all hope was gone for that baby, yet that nurse soon left. With no fully trained midwife amongst the 90,000 Apuk Dinka (South Sudan) hundreds of mums and babies die each year because they have no one to give them small pieces of advice”.
For our partner Naomi in South Sudan, stories like this one are common. Just last week, HART learnt of the safe arrival of Mary Adeng’s baby, one of the teachers at the Marol Academy. We were reminded that pregnancy and childbirth is often a frightening time for women in South Sudan. UNICEF describes it as the most dangerous place on earth to be a mother: 1 in 7 girls will not survive childbirth. According to the World Health Organisation over 85% of births take place at home, and effective antenatal care is available to only 3% of mothers.
We were delighted to hear Mary’s news. Mary has beaten the odds as one of the few women in her area to gain an education and has since completed teacher training with the assistance of the Marol Academy. Most girls are not so fortunate. A telling statistic suggests South Sudanese women have a greater chance of dying in childbirth than finishing primary school. Only 5% of girls currently complete their primary education. This low rate of education has complex cultural reasons, including an expectation that girls should be responsible for household chores, a fear for their safety walking to and from school, a lack of separate toilet facilities within the schools, and the pressures of early marriage and pregnancy. As a result, the drop-out rate for girls is extremely high and boys’ education is often prioritised.
New research by the World Bank indicates that girls’ attendance at primary school in South Sudan has substantially improved, with girls making up 40% of students. Encouragingly, infant mortality rates have also dropped. In 2012, the government agreed upon a National Gender Policy. This policy has led to many government projects, the most successful of which has given financial support to in excess of 7,800 women in achieving their economic goals, and has delivered livelihoods training to a further 3,000. One group who has benefitted from this funding is the Widow Women of Malakal in Upper Nile state, who have been able to rebuild their lives by cultivating land donated by the government and community. The Minister for Gender, Child and Social Welfare, Agnes Kwaje Lasuba, has asserted the importance of helping women to lift themselves out of poverty, stating “In our culture, women are at the heart of the family”.
HART supports the school where Mary teaches, Marol Academy, in Warrap State. Marol Academy, the ‘girls school which boys may attend’, places a special emphasis on the education of girls in the hope of tackling the female literacy rate in South Sudan which stands at less than 2%. The Marol Academy believes that, “strong, stable and healthy communities can only be achieved if both girls and boys receive an education”, and currently just under half of their primary students are girls.
Marol Academy’s work to encourage education for girls is advanced through the support of it’s international friends. Lucy Thomas, a friend and supporter, recently cycled 62 miles around the Isle of Wight to raise funds for a new project at the Marol Academy which aims to reduce the drop-out rate of girls at the secondary level. Whilst only 3 girls are in attendance at the secondary school, the teachers at Marol Academy are working hard to encourage girls to continue their learning. They eventually hope to introduce maternal and childcare education and increase the value placed on female education within local communities. This is important because not only does the education of girls have important benefits for women, improving their health and livelihoods, but the broader consequences for society are enormously positive as well.
The HART team would like to congratulate Mary on the arrival of her new baby, and thank her for the tremendous dedication she has shown to the Marol Academy over the last few years. Mary walks four hours every day to teach at the school, and she continued to do this in spite of losing her dad and brothers to sickness over a year ago and even whilst heavily pregnant. She is an inspiration to the young girls of her community and a true credit to the school.
To sponsor Lucy visit www.justgiving.com/Lucy-Thomas15
To find out more about the Marol Academy visit http://marolacademy.weebly.com/
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