“Salha’s father left before she was born. I have been taking care of her and her siblings as a single mother. Life is not easy because of all the needs of the children. When Salha was in Primary 4, she yearned to be in the class where girls were being given money (GESS cash transfers) because she wanted to start her own business or give me the money to boost my own business. So, what I did was to encourage her to read hard so that she can get to the class where girls were being paid money (Primary 5)”, Rose, mother of six from Western Bhar el Ghazal.
Salha is a 13-year-old Primary 5 learner. She lives with her mother, Rose, and five siblings in a house with one room. On weekdays, Salha goes to school, while her siblings stay at home due to a lack of family income to pay school fees. On weekends, she joins her mother to sell snacks, including roasted groundnuts, bananas and tisali (a local South Sudanese snack made from roasted pumpkin seeds)
– in their local vicinity.
In South Sudan, female-headed families, like Salha’s, are common. This is often due to more than 21 years of conflict that has claimed many lives, and continuous intercommunal conflicts, in which men are more commonly involved. Polygamy is also common, which often causes men to be absent.
Being the eldest of six siblings, Salha sees the financial struggles of her mother first-hand and though she has not always understood the full extent of her mother’s struggles, she has always wanted to help. Salha spent a year at home because her mother could not afford to pay her school fees. ‘’My daughter is supposed to be in Primary 6 now but because she spent a year at home, she is still in Primary 5. She was at home for one year because I was not able to raise the amount needed at the school,” Rose continued. As a single parent, Rose can only afford to send Salha, her oldest daughter, to school.
Salha put her hope in the Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) cash transfers. “When I was in Primary 4, I was really eager to get to Primary 5 so that I could get the money and give (it to) my mother to boost her business. I know if she had a big business, she could be able to pay our school fees and all my brothers would go to school like me,” Salha.
In 2022, Salha reached Primary 5 and became eligible to receive her first-ever GESS cash transfer. On receiving the money, she already knew what she wanted to spend it on. “They told us that the money was for buying school materials like books, pens, and uniforms, but I knew that if I gave the money to my mother to boost the business, it would increase. The business is doing well. Now my mother gives me money when I need it,” Salha exclaimed. According to Salha, after giving all the money to her mother for her business, Rose returned 1,500 South Sudanese Pounds to buy sanitary pads.
“When Salha received the money, she gave me 11,500 South Sudanese Pounds. This was enough for me to buy some groundnuts and tisali for me to roast and sell. Salha helped to sell the items during weekends. I was happy with what Salha did because if the money were spent in one day, we would not have any left. Now I have some savings and when I make enough savings next year (2024), her brothers will be able to go to school with savings from her cash transfers,” Rose explained.
GESS gives cash transfers to girls who are enrolled in school and regularly attending classes. Girls in classes Primary 5 to Secondary 4 are eligible to receive the money. Girls in candidate classes (Primary 8 and Senior 4) receive a larger sum to cover the extra cost of examinations. Girls are encouraged to use the money for school-enabling materials. However, sometimes girls use part of the money to support their families with income-generating activities that can help to boost the families’ financial security.
The GESS cash transfers help to lift the financial burden of sending girls to school. Low enrolment of girls, especially in secondary school, is common in South Sudan, where parents and guardians often prioritise the education of boys.
So far, over one million girls have received cash transfers in South Sudan in the second phase of the programme, 158,851 of which are from Western Bhar el Ghazal. “So many girls in South Sudan have received cash transfers. I have witnessed how important this money is and how the girls spend it. I believe there are more girls like Salha who have not spoken out,” Andrea, GESS Team Leader, Western Bhar el Ghazal.”
With support from UK aid, the Government of Canada, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) the European Union and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), GESS continues to support schoolgirls across South Sudan to stay in school and complete their education.
Read more about GESS cash transfers here.