Getting involved with Ibba Girls Boarding School

Ibba Girls School seen from the air in Feb 2015.
Ibba Girls School seen from the air in Feb 2015.

This story starts in 2002 when I began a Master’s in Public Administration course at Warwick Business School. That’s where I first met Professor John Benington, who at that time was the head of the Institute of Governance and Public Management (IGPM). Fast forward six years, long after I’d got my MPA, and John sent an email to alumni asking if anyone was interested in helping out with some work the IGPM was doing with the Ministry of Commerce in what was then, prior to independence, the appointed Government of South Sudan. (After more or less 50 years of civil war there was a peace agreement in 2005 which led to a referendum on secession and, ultimately, independence from Sudan in July 2011. South Sudan is the world’s newest country–although I still see lists of countries that do not include it).

In 2008 John had arranged three training courses for 50 civil servants from the Ministry of Commerce to be held in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. This in itself says something: running a course in Warwick Business School would have been more comfortable but only one or two civil servants would have benefited. Taking the courses to South Sudan meant that 50 people got the benefit.

The first two courses that were run were about people management and project management. One of the civil servants was Nagomoro Bridget and she shared her dream with John about building a girls school in the village of Ibba, Western Equatoria, where she grew up.

The third course was in December 2008 and focused on financial management. John’s team for this was Roy Warden from Her Majesty’s Treasury and me. We spent a week at the Juba Bridge Hotel in Juba delivering the course and I remember seeing John pointing out Bridget to me and explaining her dream.

For me, a number of things flowed from that visit to Juba. First, I had an ‘adventure’ by the White Nile (our hotel was just beside the bridge where Levison Wood was arrested whilst Walking the Nile). Second, whilst waiting for a connecting flight at Nairobi airport, John gave me the idea to write a book–a story explained in the foreword. Third, I’d done some work outside of the UK, which was one of my goals when I decided to leave local government and become an independent consultant. Fourth, John saw some potential in me to explain finance to non-financial managers which led to the invitation to teach at Warwick, on the very same MPA course I had taken. And, fifth, I became part of John’s network of supporters for building a girls school in a remote and deprived part of the world.

I don’t know exactly when John began actively fundraising for Ibba Girls School but through 2009 and 2010 he was mobilising people in his network, first informally but ultimately through a registered charity, Friends of Ibba Girls School. After a few years of fundraising work started on the school (on 73 acres of land Bridget had inherited from her father) in 2012 and the school opened with a class of 40 girls in Mach 2014. During this time I was an occasional advisor helping with some of the financial planning but I was not formally a trustee of the charity. I was also a supporter in a small way, reading the monthly newsletters and keeping in touch with progress and John’s regular trips to Ibba. (As of last week he has made 21 trips to South Sudan in 7 years.)

Ibba on map of South Sudan
Ibba on map of South Sudan

In April 2014 John rang me to ask me three questions. I can’t remember what the first two of them were but the third was, would I consider being the treasurer when the existing treasurer stepped down in the autumn? After years of persuading people to help with the Ibba Girls School project John is a difficult man to turn down, not that I ever though of saying No. My concern was just about limiting my time commitment because this is the sort of project that can become full time if one lets it.

My intention was to be a light touch treasurer, keeping an overview of the charity’s bank balances and giving a report to each of the quartlerly meetings. From the viewpoint of the summer of 2014 that looked achievable. Since then, at my first meeting as a trustee, I learned that Jamie, the volunteer who had been managing the school’s finances, and much else besides, had decided to return to his native Australia. This meant I would have to get involved in recruiting a replacement, something which is not easy from 3,800 miles away (which will be the subject of a separate blog post). Ultimately that resulted in me travelling to Ibba at the beginning of this month to finalise the appointment of a local man, Santino, and begin to train him. His training and support will continue over the next few months by email and Skype.

Perhaps I was kidding myself that I could be the treasurer of a charity in a light touch way. Certainly for the next few months I think it will take up one day a week of my time. I don’t mind, though, because I’ve been to the school and I’ve seen the girls in a classroom. Everyday that they are in school they are safe, they are fed and they are learning. That’s worth it.

If you want to know more about the Friends of Ibba Girls School and its work, and if you would like to make a donation, please look at the website. You can also look at a gallery of photos I took during my visit over on Flickr.