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With the help of many partners, South Sudan is growing literacy and its next generation of leaders

Getting enough books to the youngest nation in Africa involves a lot of cooperation between regional groups in Minnesota and Wisconsin and groups in South Sudan with a little help from the U.S. Department of Defense.

old books, bookshelf

Gaining its independence in 2011, South Sudan is the youngest nation in Africa. The strength of a nation’s future is often assured by investing in its youth and this is even more effective when young people are actively engaged. A good example is an NGO called EduPower, founded by a South Sudanese graduate of the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. Kur Peter Thon Aduot has organized recent high school graduates and current students to work on literacy, with a focus on building and stocking libraries at schools and in smaller communities. But how to get enough books to have an impact?

The answer, it turns out, is a lot of cooperation between regional groups in Minnesota and Wisconsin and groups in South Sudan with a little help from the Department of Defense, which has a humanitarian program that supports such cooperation.

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Rotary Clubs in Minnesota and Wisconsin started a literacy project, which grew into a partnership with the Rotary Club of Juba in South Sudan, with the goal of helping students there.

Partnerships make everyone stronger. South Sudan has a growing number of universities and is working hard to improve access to education in smaller towns and rural communities. This partnership benefits from the input of the South Sudanese diaspora. When the initial efforts were made to organize a shipment, two names came up. First was Garang Buk Buk, who attended university in Kenya before continuing his graduate studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, he was a regular volunteer at the Books For Africa warehouse. After returning to South Sudan to work for Catholic Relief Services, Garang has already organized two containers to be distributed across the country to schools and libraries in need.

Another important name was that of Dr. David Bassiouni, who currently manages a development consultancy in New York City.  After a distinguished career with the government of Sudan (before South Sudan gained independence), Dr. Bassouni moved on to build a long career with UNICEF. He had contacted Books For Africa, a St. Paul-based nonprofit, with a request for books to be channeled to UNESCO in South Sudan to equip universities with law collections and to boost their medical programs. In this case, Books For Africa was able to reach out to its own partners, Thomson Reuters for brand new law collections, and Merck for new medical reference books published by Elsevier.

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In the case of South Sudan, the books are shipped to Mombasa in Kenya and then need to be hauled 29 hours (984 miles) overland to Juba. The normal cost for one container would be $20,000. Here is where a bigger partner was able to step in and amplify the impact of this project. The U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Programs Fund has a partnership with Books For Africa to help with the cost of shipping, but only if five complete containers are shipped. In this project, the DOD subsidy is a major boost to the project’s scope and impact. Instead of raising $20,000 for one container of books (25,000 books per container) the DOD match has allowed this project to ship five containers with over 125,000 books for $25,000. The DOD subsidy covers 75% of the total cost and exponentially increases the impact of the project.

In South Sudan, there are three main teams involved in getting the books to where they are most needed. First, UNESCO will receive one container of law and medical books and will deliver them directly to universities. Two containers will be distributed through Garang Buk Buk and his network. The remaining two containers will be managed by the Rotary Club of Juba in partnership with the young volunteers of EduPower.

His Excellency Philip Jada Natana
His Excellency Philip Jada Natana
The United States government has supported the people of South Sudan during their struggle for independence. After achieving independence in 2011, the people of South Sudan are now faced with the daunting task of nation-building. This requires educated and skilled South Sudanese. Unfortunately, for many young South Sudanese access to education and vocational training is limited. Many schools have been destroyed during the war and the few books that were available were also destroyed.  It is now a matter of urgency that the building of schools needs to go hand in hand with restocking these institutions with books. This cannot be left to the government.

Charles Adams Cogan
Charles Adams Cogan
This reality has ignited initiatives by many groups in South Sudan. One such group is the Comboni Alumni Class of 1990. This is a group of friends that went to Comboni Secondary School in Juba and graduated by January 1990.  The group raised funds through contribution from its members and bought books from Kenya and shipped them to the school in Juba. Local initiatives such as this can complement efforts that have already been made at a larger scale. There are many South Sudanese who graduated from schools like Comboni currently living in the U.S. They can collect books and work with Books for Africa. Such collaboration will make these projects sustainable.

Literacy is an important priority for South Sudan and will allow the next generation of youth to play their role in the nation’s future. Without the power of partnerships, none of this would have been possible.

His Excellency Philip Jada Natana, ambassador of South Sudan to the United States, is a career diplomat and served as ambassador to South Africa before coming to the U.S. in 2018. He will be the keynote speaker at the Books For Africa’s 35th Anniversary gala Sept. 13.

Charles Adams Cogan is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, Fulbright Scholar and current Rotarian. He is also a member of the board of directors of Books For Africa.