If you were to Google South Sudan today, all you’ll see is violence and bloodshed. It doesn’t represent the whole picture or the South Sudan I am working towards. I am working to build a network of secondary schools across South Sudan that will use educational spaces for peace-building as well as leadership development for young people.”
Ngor Majak Anyieth ’11 from South Sudan is the Founder and President of Education Bridge, a non-profit organization building a network of schools to foster peacebuilding and leadership development in South Sudan. Having grown up in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, Ngor Majak discovered the power of education and its potential for developing sustainable societies through his learning experiences at African Leadership Academy and the University of Notre Dame. In 2017, he became the first ALA alumnus to receive the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship, awarded to the most promising social entrepreneurs across the world.
Majak spent six years living and attending school at Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, due to a lack of education opportunities in his home country, South Sudan. Although education was free, basic necessities were scarce in the refugee camp. During holidays, Majak and his sister sold vegetables to afford these necessities. He excelled academically and became the top student in the Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education (Grade 8) examinations in the camp. Because of his academic record and passion for education, he learned through a friend about an institution in Johannesburg for exceptional young leaders – African Leadership Academy.
From Kakuma to Johannesburg
Leaving Kakuma was not an easy choice. Although he did not have adequate internet access to enable proper research about the institution at the time, Majak took a leap of faith and sent in an application to ALA. Once he was accepted, he then had to convince his family and teachers that ALA was the best option for him. There was another potential opportunity for a scholarship to Canada for the best performing student in the camp, and his support network fretted that Majak was making the wrong decision by leaving Kakuma to go to an unknown educational institution in South Africa. However, a greater challenge lay ahead of him – he had to return to South Sudan to apply for an international passport. He managed to secure a travel document, but once he got back to Kenya he was informed that the document will not suffice for travelling to South Africa. After two treacherous months of traveling, dealing with government officials, and almost giving up, Majak was granted permission to travel to South Africa. After much perseverance, Majak arrived on campus three months late for his first term at ALA where he was welcomed with open arms and treated as a celebrity by his classmates who were eagerly awaiting his arrival.
Establishing Education Bridge
After graduating from ALA, Majak was admitted to the University of Notre Dame on a full scholarship. He saw in Notre Dame an extension of his ALA experience – a community of people concerned about their local community and communities around the world. At Notre Dame, he had the chance to befriend and spend time with the legendary humanitarian and former President of the University, Father Theodore Hesburgh. Every summer, Majak would return to South Sudan to work on various projects in the education space. In his third year, he made the bold choice to take a gap year to return to South Sudan, establishing Education Bridge, a non-profit organization which seeks to create flourishing communities through peace-building and holistic education. Education Bridge achieves this mission through its first school, Greenbelt Academy, a secondary school that selectively recruits and brings together students from different ethnic communities around South Sudan with the mission of using education for peace building and leadership development. Majak is convinced that for South Sudan to move beyond its current challenges, South Sudanese citizens need to engage and participate in creating a cultural shift. In 2017, Majak became the first ALA alumnus to receive the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship, awarded to the most promising social entrepreneurs across the world. He joins ALA’s co-founders, Fred Swaniker and Chris Bradford, who were named Echoing Green Fellows in 2006, catalyzing their plans to launch the Academy. In receiving the Fellowship, Majak was just one of 36 entrepreneurs selected from over 3,000 applicants in 164 countries.
Navigating through Challenges
Majak’s vision to build a network of schools using the educational space for peace building and leadership development is no easy mission in a fragile country, attempting to weave together diverse ethnic groups after a decades-long conflict. His earliest challenge was securing the space and land to build the first school. Finding support from the local community was difficult, as it was not motivated by the government, but they eventually succeeded. The second and ongoing challenge confronting Majak and his colleagues face is around the mission of the school, which is to enroll students from various ethnic communities. This difficulty is largely due to the security conditions in the country. Although Greenbelt Academy currently has students from three ethnic communities living within a cohesive environment, there are 64 ethnic communities in South Sudan. His vision is to welcome students from these various communities in the next few years to engage and celebrate diversity, while breaking down long-standing stereotypes.
Joining the Anzisha Education Accelerator
According to Majak, the ALA network has been critical in supporting his current work. In 2018, he was accepted as an inaugural member of the Anzisha Education Accelerator (AEA). The AEA program, spearheaded by alumna, Jihad Hajjouji ’08, empowers education leaders to build thriving educational institutions across the continent. Through this program, Majak is learning to build a leadership institution and with it, a culture that reinforces the school’s mission. Within the program, he has had the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from other education entrepreneurs across the continent. The AEA program coupled with the inspiring work of fellow ALA alumni pushes Majak to excel at his current mission and to amplify his impact across the continent.
Vision for the Future
Within the next two years, Majak has a clearly-defined goal – to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by the three-year Anzisha Education Accelerator program. He aims to sharpen his skills by not only understanding how to improve himself, but also by implementing these learnings, changing his community and perfecting his education model. In the long term, he envisions himself creating a completely scalable model school across South Sudan, not only in the form of educational institutions but also working with the government to create a better society for the world’s youngest country.