Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Prepare for Radio Silence.

We have now been in South Sudan for six months.  Most agencies, including organisations like OXFAM and Save the Children, who are well  known for spending their money carefully, send their staff on ‘R&R’ every eight weeks or so, but VSO volunteers are reckoned to be made of sterner stuff.

Not us.  We are taking some leave starting at the end of this week.  Our daughter, Kate, has just arrived in Rumbek to check whether what we have been telling her for the past six months is, in fact, true , and then on Friday we’ll be off to Kenya and Tanzania for a safari holiday in a big truck.  Can’t wait.

So, for those regular and faithful readers who follow the blog every week, there is likely to be a bit of a hiatus.  I will try to post something if we come across an internet café somewhere, but photos will have to wait until we get back at the beginning of next month.

It’ll be tough, but you’ll get through it! 


There’s Nothing Like a Good Book…

… unless it’s 9.2 million good books.  That is what the British Government is providing for the Primary schools in South Sudan as a major part of its development aid to the world’s newest nation. 

Distributing 9.2 million books would be a bit of a challenge in a developed country.  In a country like South Sudan, it gives a whole new meaning to the expression “Logistical Nightmare”.

Primary schooling in South Sudan takes eight years, so P1, P2, P3 etc.  The British Government has paid for all of the textbooks for Primary 1 to Primary 4 to be re-written and the new books have already started to arrive in some parts of the country.  (Remember, South Sudan is about twice the size of Britain and has almost no all-weather roads.)

The books were all printed in South Korea, no less, and then shipped to Uganda in 300, yes 300 shipping containers. I just wish I could have got a picture of the convoy!  They were sent to Uganda because there are no companies in this country that could cope with the complicated business of ‘picking and packing’ 9.2 million books and sending them to thousands of schools.

The plan is to deliver the books directly to each school, which is a hugely challenging task, given the state of the roads.  The whole thing has to be completed before the onset of the next rainy season, in April, because once the rains start, many schools will become completely unreachable. 

Local communities will be challenged to provide a clean, dry store to keep the books safe, if the school does not have suitable space.  The line will be, “No store, no books”, so some of these schools that are currently held under trees, may find that the kids in the neighbouring school will have lovely new books, while they have none.  My guess is that some “tukuls” will suddenly appear.

The books will be packed in black plastic crates similar to the ones used in Britain to collect waste paper for recycling, although the book boxes will have lids as a protection against vermin or termites.  The idea is that, once the books arrive in school, they will be reorganised into Year groups and classes and then stored in the boxes  provided.

The intention is to provide one book for each child in P1-P4 in five subjects, English, Maths, Science, Social Studies and Cultural and Religious Education (CRE).  This will be an enormous boost to children’s education.  Many schools have no textbooks at all.

The main challenge, however, once the books reach the school, is going to be to train the children in how to handle something as precious and as fragile as a book.  Most of them come from families who have no experience of reading and they live in ‘tukuls’ without tables and bookshelves.  Hence the poster that follows this blog entry.

The decision about how many books to deliver to which school is based on the Government’s statistics, which is a whole other story, as they say.  A large part of my work over the last few weeks has been trying to check that the figures that the distribution company has and the figures that the Government holds about the number of children in each school are, at least, similar.  You can’t take anything for granted here.

Question:  How do you get a shipping Container off the back of a truck at a school in the middle of nowhere?

Answer:  It is a highly sophisticated, four-stage procedure as follows:

  • Find a tree.
  • Tie one end of a rope to the container;
  • Tie the other end of the rope to the tree;
  • Drive off. 


Do’s and Don’ts of book care.

Do's and Don'ts of book care.

T-Shirt of the Week #10

T-Shirt of the Week #10

Rural Idyll.

Rural Idyll.

Mud walls, thatched roof. Not too hot, not too cold. What more do you want?
Running water? A toilet? Windows? Yes, but apart from that…

Nomination for Fine Face of the Year Award.

Nomination for Fine Face of the Year Award.

A teacher listening to Linda during a teacher training session on how to teach Science in the Primary school.

Meet “The Citizen”.

Another perk of going to Juba is that you can buy “The Citizen”, which is a daily newspaper. They do struggle to get enough news to fill it, sometimes they run short of ink, so the print is so faint that you can hardly read it, but some of the advertisements do make you smile.
(By the way, “Sudanese Army” means the army of the Republic of Sudan, i.e. Northern Sudan.)

South Sudan – World Leader!

South Sudan -   World Leader!

The ownership of cattle and its use as bride price are such a deeply engrained part of Dinka culture that anyone who has any wealth at all, keeps it in cattle, which means that the capital is tied up in cows and doesn’t circulate in the ecomony.

It beats Yellow Pages

It beats Yellow Pages

Why don’t they have things like this in The Guardian?

Fresh Water

Fresh Water

…straight out of the Nile.

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