Organization: Building Minds in South Sudan
Location: Rochester, New York & South Sudan
They provide educational and entrepreneurial opportunities for villagers in the Republic of South Sudan. The organization seeks to build schools, provide gender equality through promoting education for girls, provide villages with a central hub and restore a sense of community, improve the quality of education through teacher training, and provide micro-finance grants to women who present viable business plans.
Regions of Service: South Sudan
About the cause:
“It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” – Kofi Annan, then U.N. Secretary-General, 2006.
Around the world, millions of girls are left behind in education and financial independence. As of 2015, 59 million children of primary school age are out of school. 30 million of that number live in sub-Saharan Africa and 10 million in South and West Asia, according to BBC.
Roughly 15 million girls are forced into marriage, according to Unicef . Those that study the issue of child marriage insist that women and girls face violence, pregnancy, high costs, and discrimination that prevent them from attending school. Some also believe that the issue is cyclical; girls who face violence, early pregnancies, and discrimination do not become educated, which makes them vulnerable to situations such as more violence and early pregnancies.
The seed for Building Minds was planted in co-founder Sebastian Maroundit’s head over the course of many years while he watched women and girls in his home country face fundamental injustices.
In the late 1980s, Maroundit and roughly 20,000 other young boys were displaced from their homelands during the Second Sudanese Civil War. At the time, boys as young as six years old were being murdered by the opposition or drafted into the army. To escape certain death, the silent mass walked first from Sudan to Ethiopia and then were pushed on to Kenya when war broke out in Ethiopia four years later. Over those thousands of miles, half of the boys died of exhaustion, dehydration, and hunger. The ones that survived were named the Lost Boys of Sudan.
In 2001, Maroundit and a group of fewer than 4,000 men — now in their late teens and early 20s — were selected to resettle in the U.S. Thinking America was in Italy, Maroundit opted for somewhere “colder” than his homeland in the U.S. He was adopted into an American family and flown to Rochester, New York.
Maroundit attended Monroe Community College and SUNY Brockport while his cousin, Mathon Noi, attended Niagara University. Maroundit decided to put his heart and new knowledge together and created Building Minds in South Sudan with his cousin.
In 2007, the cousins returned to their village and were reunited with their surviving parents after 18 years. The village was without clean water, without roads, and without proper educational facilities. This ignited their passion for rebuilding hope and providing educational opportunities in their village and beyond.
What they do:
Intent on providing equal opportunities for women, Building Minds built schools and started initiatives that break down social and physical barriers that keep women from attending school. They oversaw the building of the Ajong Primary School, Majok-keen Girls School, and the Bill Cook High School, and they began the Pads for Girls Initiative and more.
In Sudan, some Dinka parents will not allow their girls to attend a school that also has boys enrolled. Because of this, Building Minds opened the Majok-Keen Girls School.
Girls in South Sudan do not attend school during their menstrual cycle. The Pads for Girls Initiative provides girls with handmade, cotton sanitary pads to ensure attendance and participation. The reusable pads and stylish carrying pouches were first made by volunteers in Rochester, New York and were distributed by a volunteer in 2013. There, the volunteer taught women how to sew the pads while hoping that a cottage industry may develop.
The Laima Project is focused on empowering women entrepreneurs by providing them with microfinancing skills to establish businesses. Women in the program are selected based on economic need and the submission of a promising business plan. Those that are chosen by the community and established business leaders are awarded a $500 grant from Building Minds to participate.
The Bill Cook High School is scheduled to open this month and will push enrollment numbers to over 2,000 students.
Some of the 26 women that have received funding now own convenience stores, restaurants, tea shops, and breweries.