Abraham Nhial immigrated to the U.S. as a "Lost Boy of Sudan" and is working to found the first secondary school for girls in Aweil, a city with a population of one million. Geographically and politically, Northern Bhar el Ghazel State is the largest state in South Sudan and is inhabited by diverse ethnic communities including returning refugees, Darfurians and Messirya from the North. Strategically, this project targets girls from these different communities in order to provide them with access to higher education so they will be able to avoid poverty, resolve conflict, and ultimately, promote peaceful living among their communities.
During the civil war in Sudan, Aweil State was a war zone because of its close proximity to the border. Until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, many young children, mostly young girls, were forced into slavery as wives or houseworkers. The boys of Aweil typically fled to neighboring countries as refugees, or to the U.S. as "Lost Boys."
The opportunity for girls to receive education is not always supported by the culture or economics of their local communities. Specifically, girls are often kept from attending school, and are seen as sources of wealth for their families through the dowry they will bring once married. In fact, an educated girl may receive a lower dowry, and the less education they have, the more likely they are to marry at a young age and work low paying jobs.
The St. Mary's Girls School in Aweil is needed as there are no other secondary schools for girls in the region. A major component of the school project will focus on changing cultural attitudes. Specifically, that females should not be regarded as property and that their communities should recognize that education women will positively contribute to development of the community and South Sudan as a whole.