Case study of a child-led community development in South-Sudan
by Violet Mugisa and Grazyna Bonati
In a small, primary school in Dirra Village, Guli Province, White Nile State, a three-hour drive South of Khartoum, children are becoming community leaders – they feel powerful and respected, and are improving their own lives, both materially and emotionally. They now have electricity and drinking water in the school, and some beautiful new desks and benches, in every classroom.
It all began in September 2005, with a short training in child participation, during which Plan-Sudan staff learnt how to guide and support children through their own projects, by helping them identify and prioritise their problems, plan action, implement their own solutions and monitor their achievements.
This first training was held in Guli Province, White Nile State. Tremendous rains made it impossible to work in the school designated for the practice sessions, so another school was chosen at the last moment. The school was very responsive to our request and we quickly began working with the children.
After some time building relations with the children, each group of children selected one problem on which they would like to work, although two of the five groups chose the same problem (i.e. the broken electricity generator). Thus the problems chosen were:
- The school generator was broken;
- The children in the school had no drinking water;
- Desks and benches were in a poor state of repair and insufficient for the number of children in the school;
- The presence of large numbers of cattle was causing the children to have some health problems (diarrhoea and asthma).
Each group of children suggested solutions for their particular problem and drew up a plan of action. One action was taken immediately so that the participants on the course could monitor the results with the children. The results were quite impressive, and several problems were soon well on the way to being solved. The parental support obtained by the children for these activities was extremely high, with parents offering support in terms of both money and labour/time. The children were very excited by their own results. They did not know they could do anything before.
1. To repair the school generator, the children raised awareness within the community of the need for electricity in the school to allow them to study in the evenings. Two children and one teacher contacted a mechanic to find out the cost of repairing the generator, and learnt that it would cost 90,000 Sudanese Dinars (approx. US$375). The children then collected subscriptions from all the children in the school. In effect, these subscriptions came from the parents. The children are now able to study in the evening and are preparing for their exams this week. The School Generator Committee, made up of 10 children, is now checking the state of the generator regularly. We are waiting for the school results to evaluate the outcome of this activity.
2. To provide drinking water for the children in school, the children in one class decided to raise the money needed to buy two large water containers and a stand for their class. The Water Committee, consisting of 20 children, raised awareness in the community of the importance of water in the school, and a group of eight children were selected to collect the money for the water containers and stands from community leaders and their families. Then they formed teams to fill them with fresh water daily. The idea quickly spread throughout the school, and it has now been decided to build a special enclosure for drinking water for the whole school and this will be completed next week, after the exams.
3. The new desk and seating project was a much more ambitious but a very necessary one, given the conditions in the classrooms, where hardly any of the seats or desks were suitable for the children. The seat and desk committee, made up of 20 children, raised awareness within the community of the importance of adequate seating for the children in school. Enquiries showed that new seats and desks for the whole school would cost 1,400,000 Sudanese Dinars (approx. US$5833). With the help of the surplus money from the generator fund, the children managed to collect 200,000 Sudanese Dinars (approx. US$833). They then asked for Plan’s support to reach the sum needed. Plan was happy to support them in this project. The children now have lovely new desks and seats in their classrooms and are very happy with these results.
It should be remembered that the children were working on these various projects simultaneously so that the community and the parents were being asked for several contributions at the same time, but despite this the children managed to obtain enormous parental and community support for these tasks: a support that Plan staff had not been able to obtain before then.
The children still have to deal with the issue of the cows, and thrilled with their new-found leadership and problem-solving skills, are identifying new problems to deal with once the above-mentioned issues have been dealt with (e.g. school books, health unit, rubbish collection, etc.). Who knows where this might end!
The project expanded
Given the obvious success in Dirra, Plan staff from the Guli office have started to repeat the experience in a new area, Dabat Hamra, again using the primary school as a base. After initial talks with the school staff, community and families of the school children, 54 children aged between 10 and 14 years were selected to work with Plan community development co-ordinators, on this project.
They were divided into four groups and after the usual activities to build relations and facilitate communication, the children prepared village maps on which they could indicate the problems that they had to deal with. The children discussed these problems to identify their own priorities and then planned their action. In this case, the priority chosen was classroom construction. Some time was spent on planning and preparing their activities carefully. Plan staff found them equally committed to this activity when they returned a few days later. The children had learnt how to manage meetings and write reports. We look forward to seeing the results of their efforts.
During the last fortnight, Plan staff has begun work with two more groups of children (from Shawafa and Wasaa communities, in Guli Province). The children were extremely responsive and have begun work on several projects, including a school garden, rubbish collection, mosquito control, school classroom construction, electricity and a new school for girls.
The lessons learnt:
- Working with children takes time, so we need to plan for this.
- Full involvement of the children throughout the project cycle leads to a much better outcome.
- Families are very happy to respond to children’s initiatives, both in terms of money and work, and this support speeds up the process.
- It is better to work in twos (facilitators) for such initiatives – two can do much more than one person.
- The work in Dirra has made other communities more responsive to this work as they have clearly heard about the results obtained there.
Plan-Sudan did not really encounter any problems in the implementation of this work with the children and is keen to spread this effort to more communities as soon as possible. It should soon be applied in all the Programme Units in Sudan.