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IRA Council and Rotary Collaborate on South Sudan Literacy Project

 | May 09, 2013

by Judy Backlund

After I traveled to South Sudan to train teachers in 2011 with fellow Central Washington University professors Phil Backlund and Janet Finke, I wondered how we could do more to help the children there.

South Sudan gained its independence in July 2011 after a long-running civil war. The adult literacy rate is 27 percent, and 63 percent of the population above the age of six has never attended school, according to a U.S. State Department fact sheet.

Clothe the Body

The three of us saw the poverty the South Sudanese children lived in and their need for clothes. Since Phil and I are IRA members and Rotarians, and Janet is an IRA member, we knew just whom to call. We joined with Ellensburg Morning Rotary Club, Rotaract (young Rotarians), and the Central Washington University (CWU) group of the Washington Organization of Reading and Development (WORD) IRA state council to provide clothes for girls and boys at an orphanage in Juba, South Sudan. 

The members of the two organizations met every Sunday night for three months, between January and March, 2012. Together they made 50+ pillowcase dresses and turned 50+ inexpensive t-shirts into cool shirts for kids. This was the “clothe the body” part of our project.

clothe the body

Feed the Mind

To “feed the mind,” we selected one book to go with each article of clothing. For the very small (size 2-4) pillowcase dresses or shirts, we chose board books. As the sizes of clothes increased so did the types of books we selected for each article of clothing. The WORD members carefully selected fiction and nonfiction books as well as only including those that were culturally appropriate for the children. We then packaged one book and an article of clothing in a large Ziploc bag. We put together 136 bags.

“The Clothe the Body, Feed the Mind project was a wonderful experience bringing in CWU WORD and seeing their enthusiasm working with people (Rotarians) they had just met and their passion for not only helping children on the other side of the world but wanting to learn about these people," said Jack Carpenter, Past-President, Ellensburg Morning Rotary Club."[It was a] great sharing of resources, hearts and minds.” 

“It was great to see people of different generations sharing a passion for improving the world through literacy and clothing,” said Lisa Toedtli from Central WORD.


South Sudan Special Delivery

In March 2012, two Rotarians who were also IRA members and another IRA member took the bags of clothes and books to the Confident Children Out of Conflict and Crisis Street Orphanage in Juba, South Sudan. While there we spent time with the girls and the director and have developed a lasting friendship.

Scholarship Project

In addition, Rotaract and WORD raised money for three scholarships to cover the costs for three of the girls to attend school for one year.

"Clothe the Body, Feed the Mind was a great joint project that gave us the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the children in South Sudan, while having an impact on literacy internationally,” said Jackie Robertson, President of Central WORD.

Another part of the Ellensburg project is raising money for $250 scholarships to send one South Sudanese girl to school for a year. A year later and through our connections, other scholarships for additional girls to attend school are being raised.

For information and photos about the Clothe the Body, Feed the Mind Project or ways that you can support Confident Children Out of Conflict and Crisis please feel free to contact me.

Judy Backlund is the Past President of Ellensburg Morning Rotary and the Chair of IRARI, an International Reading Association Special Interest Group, focusing on promoting joint literacy efforts between Rotary Clubs and IRA Councils,


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