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Teenage girls in South Sudan show us what it means to love yourself

By Oxfam
Rose, 16, is one of the Noura Nyal Kids, a group of young women from Nyal, South Sudan whose portraits will be on display at Photoville NYC. Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

Photo series reveals the dreams and ambitions of young women in Nyal, where child marriage is a common occurrence.

You can keep girl from school, but you can’t keep a girl from dreaming. Oxfam teamed up with photojournalist Andreea Campaneau to bring the hopes of young women in Nyal into focus. She taught them basic photography skills, so they could learn to document their own stories.

According to 2017 reports, South Sudan is the worst place in the world for girls’ education. As many as 73% of school-age girls don’t even get to attend primary school. In South Sudanese society, there is an expectation that women are defined by marriage, rather than education or career. Oxfam research found that in Nyal—a town in the northern part of the country--in particular, rates of early and forced marriage are among the highest in the world.

The young women Campaneau worked with refer to their collective as “Noura Nyal”—Noura” meaning “love yourself’ in the Nuer language. They shared their desires to leave domestic sphere, become educated, and share in the same opportunities as their brothers. Read their aspirations below in their own words.

Mary, 16

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Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“I want to be a ruler one day. I want to be a queen, a strong queen. Right now, I feel like playing the jumping rope makes me strong. That’s why I love playing it and I want to have my picture taken with it.”

Nyadak, 16

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Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“I am 16, but I have never been to school. This is why I want my picture to be taken in a classroom, next to a blackboard. I live a in small island off the main town of Nyal, and it would take for me at least an hour to go from that island to the school in the main town.

“The boys in the island still get to go to school. Their parents would send them. But, as a girl, I have to stay in the island, help with the household chores, and sometimes look for food in the swamps like fish and water lilies.”

Nyakuma

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Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“At night, after a hard day of hard work, fetching water, cleaning the house, and cooking, I always stop and think about what I want to do when I grow up. I want to be a doctor so I can help the sick people.

I also want to be a driver. I want to drive my own pick-up car so I can see places outside Nyal. I want to drive to different corners of South Sudan and meet new people.

I hope I will be able to finish school. I also hope that there will finally be peace in my country so that girls like me can have an opportunity to do business. I hope for peace because it means I can drive safely across the country without fear of being attacked.”

Rose, 16

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Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“School is everything to me. It’s a very special place because I am surrounded by other kids like me and we get to play my favorite sport, which is volleyball. In school, I can see that I can be a leader because other kids look up to me. I am good in a lot of subjects, especially science, so other kids follow my lead. I know that if I finish school, I can be who I want to be. And I want to be a pilot. I want to be a pilot, like those men driving those big planes, coming to Nyal to deliver goods… maybe even become a pilot who travels the world to see different places.

I love school and how it makes me feel. When I arrive home, I need to start cleaning the house, do the laundry, fetch water from the borehole, cook. Sometimes, I envy my brothers when I see them play outside with their friends. As the girl in the family, I have so many responsibilities that I can’t even do my homework. I hope I don’t have to marry; that could mean I won’t have time to go to school.”

Grace, 16

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Photo: Noura Nyal Kids/Oxfam

“I love Nyal, but I feel like Nyal can be better. If there’s peace in the country, maybe Nyal can be better, and then the situation will also be better for us girls living here.”

Spreading the love for the Noura Nyal Kids

These photos taken by the Noura Nyal Kids were displayed as part of Oxfam’s “Love Yourself: the Girls of Nyal, South Sudan” exhibit at Photoville NYC in September. We asked people who stopped by our exhibit to write a letter of encouragement to the young women in the series. Hundreds of visitors participated, and in October, we shipped the letters to Nyal.

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Letters from visitors at Photoville NYC to the Noura Nyal Kids. Photo: Oxfam

One letter reads: "Your voice, your vision is so needed. We see you. We hear you. We need to keep speaking through your art. Keep going. Keep creating. Keep being exactly who you are!"

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