Juba Monitor reporter Jale Richard’s effort to raise concerns about problems in the distribution of a cash transfer meant to keep girls in school resulted in direct policy change – months after the first story broke.
The story began when two people arrived in the Juba Monitor newsroom to tell their story about the distribution of a cash transfer grant. The head teacher of Juba Model Primary School and the head of its parent council said representatives from the Stromme Foundation, which distributes the Girls’ Education South Sudan cash transfer, left without paying several of their students.
Girls Education South Sudan(GESS) is a program funded primarily by the UK government’s development program. The project seeks to improve female literacy rates in South Sudan – which are some of the lowest in the world – by helping tackle the challenges that often lead to girls dropping out. One of the first is money. Parents without enough funds choose to pull girls from school for marriage or work, opting to keep the boys studying if possible. By distributing cash grants to schools and cash transfers directly to the girls, GESS has improved registration and attendance, and reduced the rate of dropouts.
When Jale Richard first interviewed the two school representatives, he was skeptical of the story. He was concerned it could be an attempt to use the media to gain funds. With the help of his JHR trainer, he chose to contact the Stromme Foundation in order to get their side of the story. The foundation confirmed that in the case of that school there was a discrepancy between the list provided for distribution and the number of girls who arrived to claim the funds, speculating the bank may have missed printing one page of the list. Jale reported on the incident, including the perspective of both sides, in a front-page news story titled “School girls miss education grant”. This story relayed how about 40 young girls were missed during the delivery of a cash transfer aimed at reducing drop-outs in a country where only about 15 percent of women can read.
A month later, Jale attended a public forum held by GESS to respond to negative media coverage about corruption and issues in distributing the cash transfer. At the event, Jale spoke with Akuja de Garang, the GESS team leader, and with Charlie Goldsmith, whose consultancy worked on the project. He asked again about the incident at Juba Model Primary School and received confirmation the organizations would investigate the case.He later heard from GESS that the issue had been resolved.
Working with De Garang, he arranged an interview to follow up on the story with ten girls at a different school who had been paid after a confusion, and with the Stromme Foundation who could explain how those issues are addressed. During that interview, mentored by a JHR trainer, he pressed for details about Juba Model Primary School. Julious Yuga Ebam, the GESS state team leader with the Stromme Foundation, explained to Jale how he had investigated the situation at the school, finding that in about half of the cases it had been attempts at fraud, but another 15 girls had missed out on the grant due to errors filling out the forms. Although they were eligible, their names were not on the final list. Jale reported on developments on “Cash transfers increase girls’ attendance.” He then explained how policies had been changed in response to those concerns – new systems were being implemented to ensure that such issues could be prevented ahead of time so that next year no girls should be left without the cash transfer if they were eligible.
Jale Richard’s story – and his persistence – helped contribute to policy discussions that in the end helped change distribution approaches and ensure girls returned to school – with the hopes that the precedent set by his reporting would ensure that in future the same problem will no longer occur. Policy changes after being confirmed by the reporter were presented to the public on the article titled “GESS to introduce new policies to end errors” highlighting new policies in place to rectify some of the challenges.