Aliza Aluat, 19, is a proud participant in UMCOR’s Girls’ Education in South Sudan program.
Photo: UMCOR South Sudan
Two years ago, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) initiated its Girls’ Education in South Sudan program in collaboration with the Government of South Sudan and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom. You can read about it here. The program, which uses mentoring sessions and other tools, to encourage girls to stay in school, has made strides. They include spurring the courage a young woman named Aliza Aluat, who, despite her fears, convinced her father to allow her to continue her education. Here, Aliza tells her story:
I am by name Aliza Aluat. I am 19 years old and in class 8 at Maper East Primary School here in Aweil town. I felt lucky during a mentoring session this month because it was conducted by a female staff member of UMCOR. She told me that with education I could compete with men and they would respect me, because I can do anything they can do.
Before I attended the mentoring sessions, I would shy away from expressing myself. Even in class, I did not have the courage to challenge my fellow male students. I had this belief that as a woman I am not supposed to compete with men as we are not equals. During the mentoring sessions I gained courage to face my fears; I got the freedom to share my troubles with the mentors and my fellow girls. We realized that sharing our difficulties brings us together and enables us to find solutions amongst ourselves.
Two months ago my father told me someone had asked for my hand in marriage. I was shocked, troubled, and scared. I went to the house and cried and cried. I tried to talk to my mother. I asked her to help me talk to my father [and convince him] to allow me to complete school, but she was scared. In our culture, as women we are not allowed to defy or question our fathers.
I don’t know where I gathered the courage—but maybe it is because of the mentoring sessions. I asked to talk to my father and he agreed. I told my father I did not want to defy him; I wanted him to just listen to me and then make a decision. I told him that I did not have a problem with getting married, but that I felt it was not the right time for me. He told me that I was old enough and reminded me that my mother was much younger when he married her. I told him I wanted to finish school first and explained to him that if he allowed me to finish school, he would get more cows for my hand in marriage because I will be more knowledgeable and rich men will be interested in marrying me. He said that was a good thought, but he did not have the money to pay for my education. I told him that should not bother him as my education was being paid for by the government through the GESS project and that I received money to buy books and my uniform.
He looked at me and asked me where I got the courage to talk to him. I just laughed and told him that we are taught so many things in school nowadays. I don’t know if he pretended to be okay with my idea or if he [really understood]; all I know is that for now I am not getting married. My mother did not believe how I made my father change his mind.
*This blog is based on an interview by UMCOR South Sudan staff with Aliza Aluat, a participant in UMCOR’s Girls’ Education in South Sudan program in Aweil, South Sudan. Read more about UMCOR’s work in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country.