South Sudan: Journal Entry from Bruce Baikie

Last year, the ASU SolarSPELL initiative launched a partnership with EmpowerKids – South Sudan. EmpowerKids – South Sudan’s primary goal is to improve the education outcomes in primary and secondary schools, as the world’s newest nation starts re-building after years of civil war. In 2018, the SolarSPELL team started by training and equipping 3 South Sudanese schools with SolarSPELLs and a tablet charging kit. Positive feedback from the pilot schools led to our 2019 project, which is to jointly launch a Juba-based SolarSPELL teacher training center with EmpowerKids – South Sudan.

On March 30th, SolarSPELL Co-Founder and Technical Lead Bruce Baikie traveled to South Sudan and worked alongside Hakim Monykuer Awuok, the country director from EmpowerKids – South Sudan. The following is a journal of his time in Juba, together with Hakim, working with Juba Girls Secondary School to create the SolarSPELL teacher training center.

Day One: Hakim and I met with Phillip Sunday, Juba Girls School lead teacher-trainer, to discuss his new role as the SolarSPELL lead trainer and seek his input on our plan for the SolarSPELL teacher center at Juba Girls School. We then met with the head teacher at Juba Girls School to confirm Phillip Sunday’s role, the center plan, and expectations overall. We also walked through the classroom assigned for the center to evaluate the renovations required.

Later that day, Hakim and I met with the new State Ministry of Education – Director General. We started with a discussion on what SolarSPELL is, followed by a demonstration and overview. Because printed textbooks are expensive, the DG saw the value SolarSPELL can provide. The DG expressed his approval for the project to progress at Juba Girls School. He also would like to see the Center at its planned official launch in July.

Our final meeting that day was with the office of the Undersecretary of the national Ministry of Education to seek a future appointment. The Undersecretary fit us in his schedule right then, rather than having us wait for a future date. Following an overview and a demonstration of SolarSPELL, he stated that the cost of printing and distributing textbooks is too high. He personally would like to see the digital distribution of textbooks, so the SolarSPELL was an exciting idea for him. He also would like to attend the planned opening of the Center at JGS in July.

Thursday and Friday mornings started out with EmpowerKids – South Sudan Peace Essay Awards. This program is an essay contest for students to write why they want peace in their country and the best essays are published in the national paper. The first school was Juba Parent’s Secondary School. The students started by singing the South Sudan national anthem, which was great for me to hear for the first time from these young future leaders. Hakim made a great presentation on why the peace essays program is important and the role the students have in the peace process in South Sudan.

I also saw the new EmpowerKids – SouthSudan office. Though still under construction, it is taking shape and will be an excellent place for Hakim to grow the impact of EmpowerKidsSouthSudan programs.

The second school for the Peace Essay awards was the Bright Secondary School. A small assembly was held for Hakim’s presentation and the 10 awards winners – 5 girls and 5 boys. Once again, Hakim did a great job with his presentation on peace and the roles the students will play in South Sudan’s future.

Also during this week, Hakim and I visited the American Corner at the University of Juba. The American Corner provides internet access (albeit super slow), A/C, seminars, and American books for students to use in the library space.

The last two days in Juba, I wrapped up the training with Phillip Sunday. We completed coverage of all 15 of the new learning modules and all the new content areas in Version 3 of the SolarSPELL East Africa Digital Library. On this final day, we invited a small group of students for Phillip to conduct a trial run of training on some of the new content and with one learning module. The students were quite excited to participate and to be the first students to see the new version of the digital library.

We wrapped up the trip with a second visit to the EmpowerKids-South Sudan office, which was clean and newly painted. It is starting to look very nice and will be a great space for Hakim to work from.

We’re looking forward to the establishment of the SolarSPELL teacher training center with EmpowerKids – South Sudan and we hope to build upon the initial success and excitement in order to create a greater impact upon educational results for South Sudanese students.