South Sudan’s Loreto School Graduates Largest Class of Girls since Country’s Independence History
CANAA || By Father Don Bosco Onyalla, Nairobi || 23 March 2017
Loreto Girls Secondary school in Rumbek, South Sudan, last Saturday graduated 29 girls, the largest class of girls to graduate from the school and as a cohort in South Sudan since the country’s independence in 2011.
In 2014, the United Nations (UN) lauded the school for graduating 23 girls, the first time 23 girls had graduated at once from a single secondary school in South Sudan since it gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011.
Over one thousand people, among them donors of the school, representatives of the traditional leaders and State government, representatives of the clergy and religious ministering in the Catholic diocese of Rumbek, gathered to witness the continuation of the school’s tradition of graduating more and more South Sudanese girls.
The well-attended Saturday, March 18 event, which started with the celebration of Holy Eucharist, was marked by cultural song and dance from various South Sudanese ethnic groups and speeches, all showing the immense and growing support of the Loreto school community.
Among the South Sudanese cultural dances were the Acholi, Zande, and Nuer ethnic groups as well as several dances from different clans of the larger Dinka tribe.
Speaking on behalf her graduating cohort, Josephine Nyanajong addressed her classmates, schoolmates, and parents saying, “To my sisters [Fellow Graduates]: Go forward and show the world what you can do. To those who are not graduating today, do not lose hope. To our Parents: Let us stay in school, let us go to University."
"Our donors and all Loreto partners, you are rarely seen but your impact is great,” Nyanajong continued in her speech and added, “I can assure you that your effort is not being wasted."
The theme of the graduation was: I am Transformed; I seek to Transform
The Loreto school Principal, Sr. Orla Treacy of the Loreto Sisters expressed her joy on the occasion saying, "We are proud of what you have achieved today, and to be part of these last years with you.”
Seeing in the graduating students the fulfillment of the vision her congregation’s foundress, Sr. Orla told the graduating class, “Remember Mary Ward’s words: Women in Time will do Great things. Today you are those women."
Mary Ward founded the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), better known as the Sisters of Loreto, in Saint-Omer in 1609, the congregation taking its name from the Marian shrine at Loreto in Italy where Mary Ward used to pray. Pope Benedict XVI declared her Venerable on 19 December 2009.
“The road ahead will have many challenges, be strong and have courage,” Loreto Sr. Orla advised the graduating girls.
With most schools in South Sudan experiencing as high as 71 percent dropout rate of girls, Loreto School in Rumbek diocese celebrated a dropout rate of only 2.9 percent in the year 2016.
The local Chief, Mangar Manyeil Dhal saw the graduating students as future leaders of South Sudan.
In his address to the graduating students, the Chief said, “Education is something important. Graduates have shown a great example to the rest of the students who are coming after you. The first person to know the importance of education is you yourself then the society will learn after you. [These Loreto] Graduates will become leaders of SS."
The Chief acknowledged with appreciation the growth Loreto school has experienced over the years to include students from all over the country and encouraged parents to prioritize the education of girls.
"I am so happy that the time that the school started it was only going to be for western lakes but now it is for all of South Sudan,” Chief Mangar said and added, “Bring your girls to school when they are young so that they will understand what education is as they grow in the school."
This was the sixth graduation since the school opened its doors to South Sudanese girls in 2006 under the invitation of the late Bishop of Rumbek, Caesar Mazzolari, with the first girls reporting in 2008 and the first graduation in November 2011.
The Catholic diocese of Rumbek is currently headed by a Coordinator. Bishop Mazzolari passed on in July 2011, exactly a week after South Sudan’s independence. He had presided over prayers at Rumbek’s Freedom Square to mark the historic day of the country’s liberation from Sudan.
Speaking at the graduation event, the Rumbek diocesan Coordinator, Father John Mathiang said, "Keep the candle of knowledge lit here [at Loreto] burning." He presided over Holy Eucharist prior to the graduation ceremony and led the community in a song about the benefits of education.
Those who spoke on behalf of the parents acknowledged the efforts of the school administration to provide education to their daughters and wished the girls a bright future.
"Sr. Orla is like the Grandmother of Loreto,” one parent shared and explained, “Every graduate comes back and every graduate shows their appreciation."
The parent continued to share, "When my daughter wanted to go to school, we asked, will you finish? And she said yes, and she will finish; when she is finished (with) studying, she will then get married. So now when she is finished here, she will go for her bachelors, masters and PhD, then she will get married!"
"I only got my senior 4 certificate in old Sudan; so when I brought my daughter here, I told her, you go here [to Loreto] and you go to University," another parent shared.
The quality of the education that the girls receive at the Loreto school has usually helped them find either formal employment or continuing education opportunities.
Since the last five graduations (2011-2015), 62 percent of the graduates have been able to pursue tertiary education programs.
An additional 35 percent of the girls have found jobs or training programs in specific sectors including education, administration/finance, communications, nursing and community health, and in the NGO sector.