"Being a South Sudanese means a lot...because as a South Sudanese child, particularly as a girl, we have a lot of harmful cultural practices going on. All of East Africa, but South Sudan in particular, has the highest rates of child marriage, in addition to abuse, gender-based violence, and others. The state of girls in South Sudan is really what makes me passionate to do this work."
These are some reflections that former participant, Sukeji Mode Sube shares with us in a recent conversation we had. She shared with us what she has been involved in recently, as well as how her experience at the East African Girls' Leadership Summit impacted her life.
Sukeji credits her early questioning of gender inequality to the open-mindedness of her parents. She shares a particularly impactful memory, "In 2013 there were girls in my school that got married off and I remember that after that happened, I would never see them again, and I’d ask 'Dad, where is so-and-so?' and my dad would respond 'there is this bad cultural practice happening and these girls were taken off to get married. But I promise you that will not happen to you. I want you to study, and if there is a way for you to help other girls I want you to do that' ."
As a young teen, she became a mentee of one of our partner organizations, Crown the Woman and credits her Creative Action Instituted-trained mentor, Nadia, as being another very influential figure in her life who helped fuel her passion to support girls and stand up to injustice. However, she did not feel well-equipped with the confidence and tools to know how to best lead and organize for greater action, she desired more.
She marks the turning point in her own leadership journey, in 2019, when she was able to attend Creative Action Institute's East African Girls' Leadership Summit (EAGLS).
"I treasure every second I spent at the East African Girls' Leadership Summit. That's where my leadership journey started. Before, I used to talk to girls but in a less impactful way because I was not so well-equipped. But when I went to the summit, I came back as a mentor, and I had skills to offer."
She marks the turning point in her own leadership journey, in 2019, when she was chosen to represent her country at Creative Action Institute's East African Girls' Leadership Summit (EAGLS).
"I treasure every second I spent at the EAGLS Summit. That's where my leadership journey started. Before, I used to talk to girls but in a less impactful way because I was not so well-equipped. But when I went to the summit, I came back as a mentor, and I had skills to offer."
From the moment Sukeji arrived in Nairobi, she knew that this was going to be a life-changing experience. She says, "I was going to meet, not just ordinary girls, but fellow girl leaders like me that want to make change... I was so excited because I was going to get a space to discover myself, I was going to be mentored; I was going to meet a lot of incredible people; and my network was going to get wider...it meant a lot to me because it was a lot of responsibility, I was representing my whole country and the challenges that girls in my community face." She immediately felt at home. Sukeji met girls from Tanzania, Somalia, and many other countries. These girls were like her, they were passionate about making a difference in their communities, and they all had big dreams.
Sukeji was eager to learn everything she could from the summit. She attended sessions on communication skills, leadership, menstrual and reproductive health, girl's rights, and techniques for using creativity and art to engage the community. She absorbed all the knowledge she could and came back to her community with a new sense of purpose.
Upon returning home, Sukeji was intent on utilizing these new skills to impact girls in her community. She utilized the handbook from Creative Action Institute that had full guidelines on starting a girls' club, talking to other girls, and tools for collective organizing. Sukeji began sharing her knowledge with and mentoring other girls: She formed a club against gender-based violence in her school, and created a school-wide girls’ mentorship program that worked with 150 girls each week; she successfully petitioned the school administration to give her space for speaking about girls' issues at the beginning of every school-wide assembly; she educated girls about menstrual and reproductive health, their rights as girls, spoke out against child marriage and against cultural myths and stigmas impacting girls. Sukeji quickly became known in her school and in the wider community as a role model and a champion of girls' rights. She quickly began to receive invitations to speak at local and national conferences and on radio shows.
Sukeji's passion for empowering girls led her to form an organization with other girl leaders in the region called Girls Voices for Change. The organization empowers girls through girl-centered communication and leadership. She is also a co-founder of the Children's Parliament of South Sudan, which amplifies children's voices and pushes for their inclusion in governmental decisions.
At only 21 years old, aside from running her own organization, Sukeji is currently leading educational workshops with girls around sexually transmitted diseases, as well as, leading a campaign against drug abuse for boys. She is currently enrolled in the School of Medicine at the University of Juba.
Sukeji's story is an inspiring one, one of determination, passion, and hope that change is possible. Her journey is just beginning, and we can't wait to see where else it takes her!
She is proof that when we empower girls, we empower communities. The EAGLS summit was the opportunity she needed in order to learn how to put her dreams into action. It changed her life, and as a result, she is now determined to change the lives of others. The potential for change and leadership is present in so many girls across the world, they just need the opportunity to discover it. And once they do, nothing can stop them!
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