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Girls' Ombudswoman in every School

Hire, train, & place a female ombudswoman in every refugee camp school, tasked with enrolling & protecting girls.

Photo of Sr Marilyn

Written by

What problem does your innovation solve?

Girls' lack of access to school and/or family permission to attend school. Girls' dropout rates due to early marriage, lack of sanitary supplies, or burden of household tasks.

Explain your innovation.

Not yet implemented; just an idea borne from being w displaced persons and refugees in many E.Africa settings, and operating a nonprofit since 2008 that promotes girls' educ in SSudan and offers scholarships to young girls to high sch and higher educ. Girls would benefit from a local ADVOCATE enrolling them in sch, educating their parents, training cmty vols, resolving probs that arise, etc.

Who benefits?

Girls benefit, of course! Schooling develops girls' talents, delays early marriage, keeps girls healthier, sets the foundation for future employment, results in smaller and healthier families, and eventually lifts their own families up from poverty. Local communities benefit in the long run.

How is your innovation unique?

Mercy Beyond Borders has been supporting the only all-girl primary sch in South Sudan since 2008; and giving scholarships to its graduates (and others) all the way through higher educ, airing radio programs that promote girls' educ, etc. When war disrupts schooling and families move to camps, the girls can get left out. An OMBUDSWOMAN in each refugee camp sch could address that problem in many creative ways.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

I foresee 1 Ombudswoman per primary school, paid by UNICEF or other major funder. Each ombudswoman would in turn train other local refugee women to be volunteer Ambassadors in each camp block, going hut to hut to talk w parents and promote enrollment. At each sch, the Ombudswoman will "shepherd" the girls, encouraging them, counseling them, addressing health or hygiene probs -- and linking other NGOs with the girls for ldrshp training, scholarships, sports or drama or other clubs, career exploration, whatever. Yes, it's an investment but the longterm payoffs would be tremendous.

Tell us more about you.

I'm Sister Marilyn Lacey, MSW, founder and Exec Dir of the nonprofit, currently working with women and girls in South Sudan (and refugee camps in Uganda) and in Haiti. We have E.African and Haitian team members working in-country. We'd love to collaborate with other grps on an Ombudswoman project for girls' education.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

South Sudanese refugee Camps in the Adjumani region of northern Uganda.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Let's pilot this project in the Uluah I and II and Boroli Refugee Camps in Adjumani region, northern Uganda. Then evaluate, refine and expand to the larger camps in the same region. there are one million refugees in the area, so plenty of work to do in a relatively confined area. The process can be replicated among internally displaced populations inside S.Sudan, or other major refugee camps such as Kakuma, Kenya, or Dadaab in Kenya.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

MBB has had local staff working since 2009 in E.Equatoria, S.Sudan. We have placed students on scholarship in 5 States of S.Sudan, w schools, radio stations and local govt officials. We host leadership trainings for young women in S.Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. We've set up an alumnae network for our university grads (all female). We have 6 micro-ent groups of women refugees in Uluah and Boroli camps since 2016. Our support is private. We're exploring collaboration w Mothering Across Continents.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

I am a former teacher, also with a Master's in social work, who has been involved fulltime w refugees and migrants since 1981 in camps overseas, in domestic US resettlement, and since 2008 with Mercy Beyond Borders, the international NGO I founded. We focus on girls' education, women's economic development and advocacy for women's rights.

Innovation Maturity

  • Early Stage Innovation: I am exploring my innovation, refining, researching, and gathering inspiration.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Mercy Beyond Borders is registered as a nonprofit in the US (Calif) and in Uganda. The main office is in Santa Clara, CA.


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Join the conversation:

Photo of Ovonyoli Wanjiku

I love this. Its very practical because communities can only depend on the individuals within for their solutions.

Photo of Alessandra Hartkopf

This reminds me a little of the CASA model in the United States in which adults are paired with foster children as advocates. I think a female role model who is able to demonstrate the value and importance of girls' education to families is a great idea. How do you foresee engaging the ombudswomen? Would there be an application process? Will you require any prior credentials?

Photo of Madiha Ahmed

Sr Marilyn Thank you so much for sharing your work here ! It is really inspiring !

So what I understood is that an Ombudswoman would talk to parents,girls and be a counsellor and educator,also training other women to do the same. Is that correct ?

Would a collaboration between Mercy beyond Borders and NGO's and any training online be helpful ? Does the current system and facilities there include a stable internet connection ? If yes,then a lot of ideas posted in the Technology section might help. I found archipleasure 's idea of Portals very interesting !

If a local lady who knows and speaks English trains the other local women in the local language then it might be more effective because difficulty in understanding English might prevent the parents and girls from benefitting from international/foreign experts.

+Acumen has invested in companies in Africa and if they get interested in your idea,maybe they could help. Here is their website-

I was wondering if a database of experts or talented volunteers might help you. I got that idea from archipleasure 's post.

Looking forward to learning more from you. I am a Loreto girl and really admire the sisters so I would like to help in whatever way I can.

Photo of Sr Marilyn

Great ideas! Thank you. All would require some funding to implement, so if that ever becomes available I'd love to collaborate to bring into reality.

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Madiha Ahmed thanks for helping find resources and the encouraging words this is such an important part of the OpenIDEO platform.

Photo of Madiha Ahmed

Ashley, thank you for for your kind words. I love the OpenIDEO platform.

Photo of Sr Marilyn

Thx, Madiha. I am new to IDEO so not sure how to proceed. Yes, we would love to partner w others to shape this concept. (BTW: we currently sponsor a number of Loreto/Rumbek grads at nursing schools and universities in S.Sudan) Ideally, we'd create a training module for S.Sudanese refugee women on how to become advocates for girls' education. They would then spread out in their respective sections of the camps to urge fams to enroll their dghtrs in sch, and would counsel the girls who are in school to prevent dropouts. Alas, online methods are a luxury not available in these camps. If this idea gains any traction and funding, yes of course we would enlist talented vols to help us with design and implementation. Thank you for your interest. Where are you working now?

Photo of Madiha Ahmed

Sr Marilyn, I work in a virtual US based company that empowers stay at home mums. I'm an Educationist and Counsellor at a Girl's orphanage in my city.. I am establishing a global social enterprise for women with teammates from Hong Kong and US.

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Joan Mumaw and Sr Marilyn so excited to see the two of you connecting on the platform you are both doing such important work!

Photo of Joan Mumaw

Such a great idea. There is a real need for someone to work with young girls to make sure they stay in school and have what they need to succeed. Such a process of training other women to act as ombudsmen can create community among those in the camp and more safety for girls. Safety is a real issue in places of war. Interesting that in South Sudan most of the teachers are men. Women would need training for this role, but need not be certified teachers.

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Sr Marilyn thank you so much for sharing the important work you are doing and this idea!

What do you see this program looking like (i.e. recruiting and training women, what their roles in refugee camps looks like, what would success of this program look like?). What would you want help and support with?

Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Sr Marilyn

Nothing concrete yet. Open to all ideas, but thinking of recruiting and training local women (S.Sudanese, if possible, E. Africa as 2nd choice), perhaps thru a series of one-weekend per month workshops, then allowing the women to operate freely at the schools near the refugee camps and in the camps themselves... Reporting back at the next month's workshop, etc... all aiming to get girls enrolled in school, keep them in sch by providing intervention, support and counsel, and spread the word throughout the camps of the value of girls educ. Mercy Beyond Borders has produced some weekly radio programs inside S.Sudan over the past few yrs, and would be willing to spearhead something like that in the Adjumani region to promote girls educ.

Photo of Joan Mumaw

This is a great idea and so needed in the refugee camps and also in the UN POC sites in S Sudan. Graduates from Solidarity Teacher Training College are starting an informal school in one of the POC camps in Juba. I will keep your idea in mind when I hear more about the work in S Sudan POC sites.

Photo of Sr Marilyn

Thanks, Joan. Yes, we need to push for S.Sudanese girls' educ in all emergency (and non-emergency!) situations! Happy to collaborate in any way that seems helpful...
sr marilyn lacey

Photo of John Paul Karijo

How about using displaced educators as ombudswomen/teachers