Dear Mama Ayendit,
I reach out to you today as a son of South Sudan—as a man who has seen violence firsthand, and knows what it has done to our country. Our people have been through enough pain, Mama Ayendit, but we all continue to pray for the future of our country with what little hope we have left. Our hope is in people like you, Mama Ayendit. You have done some remarkable things for the right cause; you have shown that you care about the people of South Sudan. In fact, you and our President General Salva Kiir have never deserted our struggles, which is very important when we speak about solving the more pressing issues in the country.
As a First Lady of South Sudan, you are an undisputed champion for the people. You stand beside the President throughout our country’s most trying times, and during our struggles even now. You continue to be very instrumental to what we stand for as a country. As a citizen of our beloved country of South Sudan, I have heard great things about you as a First Lady, which is why I am reaching out to you now with a request: I would like to see you to do more on your part to address the education of girls and the harmful practice of early marriage. The South Sudanese all watched with pride when you visited a little girl in the hospital after she becomes an orphan from an airplane crash. I was very proud of you and overjoyed to see you in action. We were all comforted as South Sudanese to see you caring for the little girl who was in critical condition. After seeing you holding the baby on TV, I said to myself that it was a great moment for us as a country and for you as our First Lady. The whole country was indeed comforted by you during that tragedy. I went on to say Ayen Nyanthon repeatedly because it was the happier moment. I will always remind myself of that strength so as long as you continue to tackle the social issues of early marriage and equal distribution of education for all children, irrespective of gender.
Now, I know to strengthen our country, we need more of an effort from the people and from you as a leader. As First Lady, you can empower many people—both men and women alike—to fight injustice in the education system and in child marriage practices. We cannot accomplish anything as a nation without solving both problems and that is why we desperately need your participation.
It is an uncontested truth in South Sudan that the death of a young girl in childbirth is almost always the result of early marriage, and without your wholehearted contribution, we might not have the power to change this terrifying reality. Young girls and the country at large overwhelmingly need this change. As you may know, the wish of a dying girl was to live in peace in our communities. You have the ability and the influence to save their lives.
We know that there will be some South Sudanese who will dig in their heels for the sake of “tradition.” But education can change how we see those traditions and how we treat each other. There has been enough hatred among our people, but if we improve our education system, then we can better respect our differences. We might have different opinions about social issues in the country, but better education is the only way that we can help to grow as a people and address one problem at the time.
One problem in particular stands out, and it makes our country look bad internationally. The lack of equal access to education for girls is unbearable, and I am certain that you can do a great job in improving this situation. Personally, I would like you to take on equal distribution of education in the country to provide direct assistance to the Minister of Education; by working closely with the Minister, you can gain a more thorough understanding of all of the issues related to child marriage. As a mother of our nation, it is your duty to represent the underrepresented.
I have a feeling that you can do more by starting to campaign against child marriage and by putting education in a nationwide spotlight. You need to show that we care about those young girls who are left out in our country. There is a direct connection between education, economy, and development, but without a higher number of girls in the education system, South Sudan will only accomplish male-based achievement. This limited potential would exclude the majority of the country’s population—women, especially young girls.
To be honest, many of us are frustrated by the frightening absence of a large population of young girls in South Sudanese schools. Based on the assessments done by various agencies, 52% of South Sudanese children are out of school, but to be exact, this figure is predominantly young girls. Therefore, this is where I have realized that you, as our First Lady, have a mission to accomplish. It is time to eliminate the stigmatization of gender in South Sudan education, and it is with this statement that I encourage you to explicitly and publicly confront the gender issues in our country—namely child marriage and the education system.
The Minister of Education has failed to address these problems in the education system. But the more I consider your influential role in our country, the more I believe that you are the right person to tackle the matter, along with those others who are very determined to get it done. You can do an incredible job in this area, and many of us are behind you as you fight this injustice in the education system. Every day, South Sudanese children are deprived of their right to attain an education in their early age, per the Convention on Rights of the Child (CRC). We must adopt international laws that protect children, and you have an immediate hand in this process.
Criticism without a sound position is baseless, but I am not vocal for the sake of being vocal. My fervor is based on the fact that so many young girls are left out of school, and many of them are dying in childbirth. You have the ability and the opportunity to liberate women and young girls from these injustices by using better decision making, which I am certain you can do. As First Lady, you have every right to make an unequivocal difference in the lives of many children in the country.
Mama Ayendit, I would love to see you lead our country towards a fair and balanced society, by championing education for all children. Education is the only way to promote equality in the country, but before those changes can be put into place, of the practice of early marriage must be put to a halt. Believe me, I know this is a tough fight, but it is within your grasp. We all believe that you can do it.
I hate the fact that certain opposing leaders are in the position to shoot you down when you have been with us since day one. I do not appreciate that you are sometimes overshadowed by bad apple, especially given the mess that they have put the country into. I am confident that you can form a better team of leaders in order to stop those who have robbed children—particularly young girls—of their rights to education in South Sudan. There is no greater symbol of equality in our country than equal distribution of education to all children.
During the most recent wars, we know that many people were killed, but in our disillusionment about death during childbirth, we forget that child marriage has taken so many mothers and babies from us. And in this case, it is a double loss of life. Many young girls die this way because they are forced to be married too early. This still happens in South Sudan, because those who call themselves activists are using various avenues that are not working, and so nothing changes.
This sort of failure occurs when leaders fail to take their job seriously, especially in the capacity of Minister of Education. Therefore, it is a great obligation for us all to address the problem, but your part is the biggest of all. As we speak, there is so little admiration toward self-oriented individuals in South Sudan, but our respect toward you and our President is strong and vital.
The lives of our people were forever hindered, altered, or ended when war was ignited—all because of greed. Many of those groups and individuals who were against our people have been re-declared as leaders, so now more than ever, it is crucial that we, time and time again, think of their worth as citizens of South Sudan. Our only way to avoid another nonsense scenario is to pay less attention to the self-proclaimed style of leadership, which had previously led to a disappearance of our people. Their high emphasis on themselves is what turned them against us in the first place.
As you know, we have been targeted and killed indiscriminately, but at the moment, many of us are back supporting those bad leaders—the same leaders who are associated with stealing and with killing people for their own benefit. We must confront them and prevent them from re-establishing their former practices when they placed such little value on the citizens of South Sudan.
At this moment, we seem to have paused the rampant killing in our country, but that violence and theft may resume at any time. In a heartbeat, we could return to a world where our loved ones are killed, which is a dimension that many of us are very familiar with. I remind you of these horrors only to warn you and to urge you to remain cautious. As soon as our oppositions disagree again, they will begin adding new statistics to the list of their previous victims. All in all, Mama Ayen, I support you, and I am very confident that you can take on these challenges associated with child endangerment, particularly among young girls in our country. Let our people accept the education of young girls over early marriage. Say no to death during childbirth, Mama Ayen. Please allow young girls to live in peace like the rest of us.
This letter was written by Deng Kur Deng, AKA, Raanmangar. You can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org