Simon Boyd, Chair of Trustees, talks to Alex Elbro on the varied and life-changing educational programs offered by Women’s Education Partnership
Click on link below to listen to Simon’s interview:
Alex Elbro (pictured above): So, it’s just gone half past eleven and Simon Boyd has lived and worked in Cambridge for the past forty years in education and publishing. Now, back in the early 70s he spent a year teaching in Sudan, which turned out to be an inspirational time. He was delighted to get involved with this charity – Women’s Education Partnership – and he told me all about it when I spoke to him yesterday.
It’s lovely to speak to you this morning, Simon. Now, you’ve been living and working in Cambridge for many years. How did you get involved with Women’s Education Partnership and can you tell me exactly what it is?
Simon Boyd: Yes, of course. Women’s Education Partnership is a charity which provides and promotes education for women and girls in the Sudan and South Sudan and it’s been going for just over twenty years and we provide a range of education from primary up to university level, actually – even some scholarships at university level. My own involvement has come about because I was invited to join the trustees and I’m now Chair of Trustees and the trustees are based in the UK and we have a staff of four wonderful development experts in Sudan.
Alex: So, you were saying there were four programs that you mainly concentrate on, isn’t there, in Women’s Education Partnership. Can you explain roughly what they do?
Simon: Of course, yes. It’s at different levels of education and perhaps it’s worth saying that 49% of girls miss out on primary school in the Sudan and of course, even more on secondary school. And that’s partly due to social attitudes and tradition that places a much – sort of – greater emphasis on boys’ education and sees girls’ education as much less valuable and our programs – well it supports particularly learners from displaced and disadvantaged communities who are on the outskirts of of Khartoum and who have probably fled from areas of the country like Darfur and the Nuba Mountains where there’s ethnic conflict and so they end up on the outskirts of Khartoum.
Our programs include support for primary orphans from this community who are completing their primary education and so we help support that. But we also provide adult literacy for women and girls who have not been able to learn to read and write – who’ve never been given that chance and we do that through adult literacy circles and on top of that we provide a number of scholarships for bright young women, again, from the displaced communities, to attend university in Khartoum. Most of them go to the Afhad University for Women but there are about four or five other universities.
Alex: And I believe you have a couple of examples of statements from a couple of the women who have gone to university and which I think are very powerful messages. Would you like to let us know about them?
Simon: Absolutely. Yes! And you know I think they should speak for themselves. One is from a young woman called Hawa and she says:
“I study at the Afhad University for Women in the School of Psychology in my third year with interest in special education at kindergarten level. I aspire to prove to myself and to everyone around me that girls are able to make their own destiny and to reach the highest levels of success. I want to leave my fingerprint in the field of special education by giving girls the support they need to solve all their problems; to stand up for their rights in society.”
I have another from a woman, again in her third year at Afhad University and she says:
“Women’s Education Partnership has always believed in our our abilities to achieve what we want, encouraged us to do better and assured us that we can have a bright future. And I’ve been motivated to strive to achieve my goals and to be a strong woman. I plan to become a great physiotherapist in the future and I want to help children in the world to be well through my work.”
Simon: And they’re very inspirational.
Alex: And they also prove this thing that if you can give education, you can create opportunities that will be far-reaching, aren’t they?
Simon: Absolutely. I mean, if you educate a woman, she goes home, she helps to educate her children, her community and the benefits, you know, they cascade down. They cascade down the generations.
Alex: So I was just going to ask, obviously, Covid has affected everyone in many different ways. How has it affected Sudan and South Sudan and your charity work out there?
Simon: Well, it’s been quite devastating, obviously, I’m sure, to the Sudanese economy and people there face 100% inflation right now and Covid has meant that schools and universities and businesses generally have gone Into lockdown as they have in this country and they went in to lockdown in March. They now look to be coming out. I think that the universities are probably coming back on line in next few weeks but obviously we don’t know how effective that’s going to be or whether it will be subject to spikes of Covid.
The effect on our Women’s Education Partnership’s funding has also been pretty catastrophic because we receive funds from grant-aiding operations and organizations and from personal donations. And our grant aiding is down by over 70% and our personal donations by over 40%, certainly. We are very keen to appeal to individuals who would like to support us and who are able to support us.
Alex: So, if people are interested about hearing about the work of Women’s Education Partnership and also looking to how they can donate, what’s you website?
Simon: Well, our website is Women’s Education Partnership. and on that, you’ll find details on how to donate on line, through the post, even through our Virgin Money site –
as well and we’d be very very grateful on behalf of WEP and of course of our learners in Sudan and South Sudan.
Alex: And I believe on you website you also have a blog (http://womensliteracysudan), don’t you, so you can see what people are doing and the different stories.
Simon: We have a wonderful blog and it’s full of absolutely vibrant pictures because people, particularly women in the Sudan, wear most vibrant colored clothes and it tells stories there which are really important to hear and do cut to the quick and make you feel what problems women do face there. I’d like to actually read you one from our latest blog actually and this is from somebody who’s in one of the literacy circles – so she’s not at university; she’s learning Arabic literacy and she’s not had the opportunity before to learn to read and write. and she says:
I am Aisha Guamaa, from Tawassul Circle, Umbadda, Hilla El-Jadeeda. I left school at class 2 in the basic school because my family thought of girls’ education as something wrong. When I grew older I discovered that my parents’ opinion was wrong. When I saw educated women I told myself what an injustice and inequality between girls and boys, although God has created them equal, they do not enjoy equal rights.
But now women are educated and become doctors and teachers and military officers. There is a proverb that says “ if a women studied qanuun (law) she will go back to the Kanuun – stove in Arabic; meaning the kitchen. It is a bad tradition. So I would like to send a message here to all Sudanese women to leave behind bad traditions and send their children to school. Education is for all girls and boys.” (Three Women’s Stories)
Simon: So, I think that’s an appeal which we should all heed.
Alex: I think that’s brilliant and that’s a great place to finish as well. Thank you very much for your input this morning and for telling us all about WEP
Simon: Thank you very much indeed.