by Candacia Greeman
At the tender age of 17, Susan* stands tall – strong and resilient against threats of forced marriage. During a recent term break, she was informed that she was to be married upon her arrival home. In her absence, her uncles had accepted 90 heads of cattle, as her bride price. With her dream of becoming a doctor and her drive to pursue her secondary education, Susan* resisted for one week. During this time, she was beaten repeatedly.
An MCC partner, the Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek in South Sudan, supports girls like Susan* through a school feeding project and a peace-building project. The Loreto Peace Club consists of 24 Loreto students who are supervised by two teachers. Every year, the Peace Club undertakes several outreach activities to provide trauma healing and peace-building resources for the girls at Loreto, and the community at large.
During the academic year, a trained counselor, who is a former Loreto teacher and well acquainted with challenges facing the girls, visits the school for one month to provide individual and group counseling sessions as needed. The counselor has noted that many students show significant signs of despair due to threats of forced marriage.
In the local culture, the bride price for a bride is paid by the brothers of her betrothed. When the couple’s first daughter is born, her life is held ransom as her future bride price will be used to repay the investment made by her uncles.
The tension between a girl’s desire for education, to choose when and who she should marry, and her uncles’ desire to recoup their investment, is the source of a lot of conflict for girls at Loreto and their families. In some cases, the conflict can become generational. The Peace Club provides girls with tools in conflict resolution to help them handle this conflict in a healthy manner.
“Being in the Peace Club has helped me a lot to deal with my own peace problems. When I lost my mother, a conflict broke out between by father’s family and that of my mother, that my father had not paid her bride price. It became a big problem until my father stopped talking to my grandfather. This disturbed me. One time I shared it during our peace club activities. From these [activities], I got new ideas on how to solve the problem and I have been talking to dad and my grandfather about it. Now the problem is being solved.”
For many girls, it is very important to have a safe space to talk about these issues and to discuss their feelings. The Loreto Peace Club facilitates this by offering Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) sessions for students. HROC is an approach initially developed in Rwanda to help communities to heal from trauma. In a recent HROC session at Loreto, Susan* and other girls facing threats of forced marriage were able to learn skills to heal from their trauma, and to build their resilience.
During HROC training sessions, I have learnt about things that other people see in me and things that I don’t see. I have also learnt about types of traumas and their cause. [I have learnt] how to heal [from] trauma and [to] live happily again. I have learnt that good listening can help overcome situation before it becomes worse. Above all I have also leant how to overcome loss, grief and mourning that is common in our society since people are blinded by hatred and revenge. Sharing our problem with few trusted ones is also another thing that I learnt. It is important to share things that troubled us because not everyone gets to know what we are going through unless we are willing to share it with them. This training has helped me a lot and I intend to teach others who haven’t had the chance to learn.
After graduating, more than half of Loreto’s students enroll in post-secondary education (52%), or work for NGOs and local ministries (31%). In recent years, graduates have enrolled in an internship program at Loreto where they receive two years of work experience as trainee teachers and nurses, and as assistants in the finance, administrative, logistics and development offices. Upon completion of the internships, they receive scholarships for training as nurses, doctors, teachers and lawyers. Internship placements are especially reserved for girls facing threats of forced marriage since they live on the Loreto compound and are protected from these threats during their internships.
While they face many challenges, girls at Loreto receive comprehensive support throughout and after their secondary education. This allows them to develop into young women empowered to promote peace and positive change in their society.
*Names were changed to protect the privacy of the girls interviewed.
Candacia Greeman is a MCC service worker serving as an education specialist at the Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek, South Sudan.
This week is International Development Week and Canadians are celebrating the difference Canadian aid has made around the world. This year’s theme is Together for Gender Equality.