Acayo Winnie, a student at the University of Juba and member of the debating club, aspires to be the Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare in South Sudan. Yet, South Sudan’s youth face a myriad of challenges. More than two decades of civil war has left many communities in South Sudan alienated and discouraged from participation in the political process. Despite their significant presence within society—79 percent of the population is under the age of 35—the youth feel marginalized by the ruling elite.

Youth in South Sudan attest that several factors have led to this marginalization, including high illiteracy rates and a general lack of opportunity. David Tipo, the secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change Youth League, believes that limited education remains the biggest obstacle facing youth in the country. “Most youth are traumatized because of the long civil war.” Young women are even more vulnerable he says, as “early or forced marriages limit [young girls] from access to education.”

To help Winnie, Tipo and other South Sudanese youth, the International Republican Institute (IRI) established the Political Parties’ Youth Leadership Academy. Through the academy, IRI nurtures the next generation of young South Sudanese politicians and equips them with the skills and knowledge to play a greater role in the development of their nascent republic.

At the opening ceremony, the South Sudan Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Cirino Hiteng acknowledged the importance of the academy for South Sudanese youth leaders. The minister challenged the youth to use their majority status to impact substantive change throughout the country.

After completing one month of the academy, Winnie reflected on the program, stating “I am very proud of IRI and myself because I can now achieve my goals, I can do something. Even though the training is still continuing, I now feel the difference in me thanks to IRI.”

Asked what he will do with the skills learned at the academy, Tipo remarked that he and the other participants will conduct a joint project advocating for greater youth representation and influence in the policies affecting South Sudanese youth.

The Political Parties’ Youth Leadership Academy is supported by IRI through a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Academy is a six-month training program designed to bring together youth participants from all 10 states in South Sudan. Participants are

trained on team building and personal development, democratic governance, managing a political office, the meaning of constitutionalism and political leadership in strengthening political institutions. The first academy runs from September 2012 to March 2013, with IRI planning additional academies, including one specifically designed for women political party members.

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