I've just been to visit Ibba Girls School for the first time, but it was actually my second trip to South Sudan. The first time was in 2008 when John Benington had invited me to co-deliver a training course for 50 civil servants from the Ministry of Commerce in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. One of those civil servants was Nagomoro Bridget and at that time she and John were discussing her dream of a girls school in her home village of Ibba. Fast forward just over 6 years and the school is open with two classes of 40 girls despite all the challenges of raising the money and working in a fragile, poor state.
I have been a supporter of the Friends of Ibba Girls School since my trip to Juba and had been an occasional adviser to the trustees on financial matters. I became a trustee and treasurer of the charity after Eric Shepley stepped down last September.
Over the winter we have been trying to recruit a finance manager for the school to replace Jamie Sgherza, the volunteer who had done sterling work for us throughout 2014 but had returned to Australia. Doing a recruitment process from 3,800 miles away is not easy. We did the initial interviews by Skype. It is amazing to have such technology for free but often we had to switch to audio only because the candidates' internet connections could not support the video feed.
By December it became apparent that I needed to travel to Ibba at the beginning of February to do three things: to finalise the appointment of the finance manager, Sonaa Santino Raphael; to learn about how the finances are managed on the ground; and to pay the staff for January because there had not been a finance manager in place to do it.
I was not alone on the trip. As well as John Benington, there were three experienced teachers (Paul and Julia Sanders and Caroline Holland) to help with re-opening of the school after the long vacation, recruiting a new head teacher and providing support to Yoane, the classroom teacher. Our architect, Malcolm Worby, was also there to carry out a progress visit on the new dormitory.
Whilst we were at the school there were several evenings where John asked all of us what was the worst and best thing that had happened that day. Thinking back, there was nothing truly bad at all. For me, the worst thing was the heat, especially in the afternoon.
On the plus side I've learned a lot, and not just about the school's finances. I've got to know some of the school staff, including Aluma Richard, the headteacher-designate. In particular, I got to spend three days working with Santino. That allowed me to set him up to use the QuickBooks accounting system and also for him to be the person who paid the staff their wages for January. I also had a chance to walk around the site with Malcolm and the builder, Joseph, which gave me really helpful background knowledge for when it comes to thinking about the subsequent phases of building work.
Above all, I saw how important education is, not just for the girls themselves but for the community as a whole. As a result I know that my first trip to Ibba won't be my last.
Gary Bandy, Trustee and Treasurer.