- Associated Press - Sunday, September 14, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Fourteen women from South Sudan stood in a room full of Indiana University leaders and fellow students from around the world.

At the front of the room, Christie Vilsack, senior adviser for international education at the United States Agency for International Development, spoke to those 14 women - all teachers. Vilsack said teachers are the most powerful people in the world because they shape lives at an impressionable time.

“We can’t even know the impact you will have,” she said to the 14 women. “You will change South Sudan.”

These women are in an IU School of Education master’s degree program that almost didn’t happen, The Herald-Times reports (https://bit.ly/YIJHM5).

Originally, the plan was for the school to use a $4.2 million grant from USAID through Higher Education for Development to go to South Sudan to increase women’s access and success in higher education.

USAID is focused on improving areas of the world in extreme poverty and works on behalf of the American people distributing economic and humanitarian assistance, Vilsack said. She said the organization helps to create future world leaders and build U.S. relationships.

South Sudan has long been a war-torn country with an educational system that is in need, especially in access for girls, she said.

There are very few women on faculty in higher education in South Sudan, so there is a dire need for women faculty to fill that vacuum, added Terry Mason, a professor in the School of Education who is one of the directors for the IU project.

But when fighting increased in the war-torn country in December, the IU faculty realized they would no longer be able to go to South Sudan, Mason said.

“I thought we were done, and we wouldn’t be able to continue and the money would be pulled,” he said.

But then, the IU organizers went back to the drawing board to find a way to bring students and faculty to Bloomington.

“If we can’t go to South Sudan, South Sudan can come here,” Mason said.

And with help from IU - which lowered tuition costs to the students - and from Julia Duany, a Bloomington resident from South Sudan, 14 women from South Sudan arrived in Bloomington in mid-August. Duany has her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from the IU School of Education and has been actively involved in the government of South Sudan.

A group of South Sudanese faculty will join them in Bloomington in January, Mason said. Both groups will return home at the end of June.

For Peace Abulu, one of the 14 female students from South Sudan, education is how she plans to teach other teachers to be leaders. She said she wants to be a role model and an agent of change for her country.

“Through education that fights ignorance,” she said. “Ignorance causes fighting.”

Her classmate Nura Justo agreed. She said teachers can change society and influence others, much like a preacher.

These women come from a country where very few girls go to school, so it’s rare to find 14 women with bachelor’s degrees who could be in a master’s degree program, Vilsack said. She said these students will go back to a war-torn country, not only to teach, but to make students feel safe enough to learn, and as teachers, to help develop their country.

Justo said she hopes to return to South Sudan with her new degree and move up from teaching mostly first-year college students as a university assistant to someone who teaches juniors and seniors.

She said she has to keep in mind that the technology she is learning to use in the United States isn’t in South Sudan, but she can still improve the way she teaches.

The South Sudanese women take some classes as a group and some classes with other students, Mason said. He said it’s important for the South Sudanese students to know how to integrate what they learn at IU in a way that is relevant to their country.

And in a way, he said, bringing the students to the U.S. - something he and others call a “miracle” - allows the students to think about education in new ways.

“It gives them the freedom to think outside their normal environment,” he said.


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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