One of the highlights of my work as a facilitator and educator was the privilege of facilitating a workshop in Juba for educators from around South Sudan. This workshop was another milestone in a journey that began in 2011 to establish a new private university in South Sudan through the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSSSUP). A feasibility study recommended the establishment of a geographically dispersed, multi-campus university model that used the church’s existing higher education colleges as its building blocks. And now that is becoming a reality.
In April 2017, over three long hot days in Juba, a group of thirty fellow educators from eight colleges participated in a visioning workshop that eventually enabled them to agree a vision, mission statements and objectives for the new university. Many of these participating colleges began as theological colleges but have diversified to provide other courses to meet important national needs: business, administration, development, agriculture, IT.
The ICA:UK sticky walls proved essential for engaging with this highly motivated and engaged group of people. They were not afraid to speak their mind – and the visual impact of seeing their work take shape on the sticky wall enabled them to reflect and listen as well. What took me most by surprise was the way they “got” the step that is often quite difficult – the one about identifying what might be blocking them from making the vision a reality. After a few moments of reflection, honest responses flew thick and fast – and not one of them talked about “lack” of resources or money or people! Instead, participants identified traits such as individualism, favouritism, self-interest, discrimination and disregard for meritocracy as threats to making the university dream come true.
A new University in South Sudan? When there are so many immediate and seemingly more urgent needs? Isn’t there a famine? And a civil war? These are the questions we and our colleagues often find ourselves needing to address when sharing this vision. It is true that despite signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 and gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, the world’s newest country remains politically unstable and economically precarious. The UNHCR estimates that there are 1.9 million internally displaced people within the country and a further 1. 8 million refugees in neighbouring countries. The almost total collapse of the economy makes buying a bottle of water (the only safe kind to drink) too expensive for many ‘ordinary’ South Sudanese. Inflation fluctuates dramatically, up to 800% at times, and famine has been declared in several areas with over one million children malnourished and at risk. The adult literacy rate is only 27%.
However, the colleagues we have been working with know that education is key to stability, peace and development in South Sudan. Only education can put an end to the cycle of violence that grips this country which has only known war for generations. And only education can meet South Sudan’s desperate need for doctors, nurses, trained teachers, engineers, agriculturalists, lawyers and business people who are committed to building a just, peaceful and prosperous nation. There are many hoops to jump through before the university is fully registered with the Government of South Sudan but we’re well on our way. As one participant in the project said, “I’m hopeful that together we shall stand strong and make The Episcopal University dreams a success.” There is no comparable privilege than to accompany them in this work.
Eeva John is Chair of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan University Partnership (ECSSSUP). She first took ToP facilitation training with ICA:UK in 1997. The full workshop report may be downloaded here.