To live and learn in Sudan

The classroom I'm in is no ordinary classroom. In the middle of a village in southern Sudan, I sit under a tree with a group of 50 children, all desperate to learn. But their teacher, Adam, has only a couple of years more education than they have and he is not paid. There are no books or pens, not even a blackboard. And these children are lucky. Watching this scene, typical in a country where only a fifth of children get to go to school, I can only dream of the impact of a decision by the G8.

Southern Sudan, where I live and work, is emerging from decades of conflict and even the most basic services have virtually collapsed. This village in western Upper Nile is like many places I visit. Few teachers are trained or paid; there are few health centres or schools and not enough drugs or doctors.

Yet some simple steps by the world's most powerful men this month could so improve lives in southern Sudan. More and better aid could increase government budgets and make possible free education and healthcare. It is for this that children and families are crying out across Sudan.

We stand to gain a lot. More hospitals and medical staff would mean children could be treated for the preventable illnesses which at present kill them. In the village in Upper Nile the queue for the health unit stretches around the block, but there are just a couple of health workers here, with few drugs. Anyone who needs more must trek to a hospital, and the nearest one providing comprehensive care is in Kenya.

This was brought home to me recently on an aid flight to Kenya. The only other woman on the plane was pregnant. I'll call her Veronica. She was 25 and in the advanced stages of a complicated labour. As the male passengers fled to the other end of the plane I became a pseudo-midwife, watching Veronica struggle to keep her baby from being born right there.

If just one general hospital were built in every county in southern Sudan, Veronica would not have had to wait two days to be evacuated to another country for treatment. She would be at home with her family, not alone and waiting for a return flight. And fewer people would die waiting for treatment. If there were more investment in health systems, the village unit in Upper Nile could always have rehydration salts for children with diarrhoea. One of the workers could be trained to provide community education to prevent illnesses such as malaria. Another could be trained in minor surgery and a doctor would visit once a week.

Could a decision by the G8 make the difference? I believe it could.

The writer is a programme manager for Save the Children UK in southern Sudan (www.savethechildren.org.uk)