In South Sudan, 6,754 miles away from Syracuse, N.Y., Hope for Ariang is changing the norms around education. Currently, the country has a 27 percent literacy rate, and is ranked second to last in providing children access to education. Hope for Ariang was founded by Gabriel Bol Deng to change those staggering statistics. Years ago, Gabriel Bol Deng was a South Sudanese refugee, and was relocated to Syracuse, N.Y. as part of the Refugee Resettlement Program in 2001. In 2007, he returned to South Sudan, and was determined to transform the education system. He decided to create Hope for Ariang, a non-profit, in his home village in order to improve the quality of life and provide new opportunities for children who otherwise would have none.
In March, students from the Martin J. Whitman School of Management‘s Imagination course, taught by Adjunct Professor Elizabeth Wimer, were visited by Elizabeth Deng, Gabriel Bol Deng’s wife and partner in Hope for Ariang, who talked about the foundation and gathered ideas for improvements from the students.
“I am thankful that HOPE for Ariang has welcomed Whitman students to use their imagination, creative problem solving and entrepreneurial skills for challenges that have very real implications for their organization, the school and the community they serve,” said Wimer. “After several weeks of careful development of this project in consultation with the executive director of HOPE for Ariang, we were able to craft a meaningful exercise that brings classroom content to life in a way that welcomes students into solving problems for a worldwide community.”
To kick-off the visit, Deng told the class about Hope for Ariang’s history, challenges and its strategies for growth, which include having a holistic approach to education and partnering with local communities to help build trust among the people living in Ariang.
Hope for Ariang currently has over 1,000 students in grades one through eight and 20 local teachers. About 50 percent of the students are female. While this may sound like a lot of students for a small school, many of these students are the first-generation in their families to get an education, and their daily activities still include helping their families with putting food on the table.
In addition, Hope for Ariang is currently tackling how to teach menstrual health management and sexual education to students in the school. Currently, they face some challenges from the society of elders and families, who pass down stories around sexual and menstrual health. Hope for Ariang wants to change the dialogue around these health concerns and normalize the conversation around them, as well as really base those conversations in science.
That’s where Wimer’s students come in. After meeting Ms. Deng, they have been asked to tackle this challenge, among a few others, by using their entrepreneurial logic. After they come together to present their ideas for Hope for Ariang, Wimer will be bringing these ideas to the South Sudan to implement this summer.
“The opportunity to work with this school and its entrepreneurial founders connects students to the larger world in a different way than a case study or a research paper does,” said Wimer. “The partnership between this class and HOPE for Ariang has global implications for both the learner and the school in South Sudan. My hope that is both are changed for the better at the end of the project.”