The sense of optimism and hope on my recent visit to South Sudan was almost tangible. The new airport terminal has opened, giving visitors a much-improved first impression. The streets were more bustling. People spoke of feeling safer than in recent years. The fresh enthusiasm for things to be different this time was as palpable as the fresh aroma that follows a rainstorm. Hyper-inflation has stabilised, and this week oil production in one of the areas most affected by violence has resumed. There is talk of a new transitional government of national unity.
Of course many are still cynical about the pace and even likelihood of real change, and as the African saying goes, a snake which sheds its skin is still a snake. But what seems different this time is that so many are weary of fighting, and popular desire for stabilisation and security is creating momentum for the political settlement signed in September to hold. If it does, there will be a renewed focus and opportunity for economic development, and for the “softer” but no less important developments, like education and trauma healing. This is a deeply scarred country, which has seen so much death, displacement and devastation. If it is to build a lasting culture of peace it will need to heal the wounds of its history, to learn to live non-violently with difference, to reach out to a lost generation of young people excluded from meaningful livelihoods and training, and to educate a new generation.
In this challenging but hopeful environment, Ibba Girls’ Boarding School is one of those rare beacons of light, a place of safety and learning and laughter and song, a place where a future cadre of leaders and professionals are growing up and already so engaged with developing their own communities. As we prepare for a new school year and for the opening of our secondary stream, we thank you on behalf of every girl at the school, and their families and villages, for your investment in them and through them in the whole of South Sudan.
Mark Simmons, FIGS CEO, 23rd January 2019