Skip to main content

Open Citizen Social Science and Collaboration – A key element in driving STEM Education in South Sudan.

By Yine Yenki Nyika


For a very long time, and globally, women and girls have shied away from science. Yet, our mothers, in one way or another, practice science daily. The limited recognition of local traditional activities, such as brewing and distilling alcohol as science-driven practices, is because the ownership of science has always been seen as a western idea rather than having its roots in ancient and modern Africa.

GoGirls ICT Initiative is a Juba, South Sudan-based non-profit initiative founded by a group of dedicated young women in Computer Science, Information Systems, ICT4D Innovation, hacktivism and peace-building. Our mission is to engage, educate and empower girls. While involving schools and the communities where these girls come from in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). We integrate STEM with the Arts (STEAM) to bring STEM education closer to young girls in South Sudan artistically and playfully. In 2019, as South Sudan joined the rest of the world in the fight against COVID-19 and communities had gone into lockdown, GoGirls took a series of actions to directly respond to the needs of their local communities in the fight against the pandemic.

On a national level, recommendations, like washing hands with soap or using an alcohol-based sanitiser, had been implemented to help fight the spread of the disease. The outcome was panic, as we all rushed to the nearest pharmacies and supermarkets to get hand sanitisers, rubbing alcohol and disinfectants to keep ourselves and our families safe. South Sudan, as a country, depends on imports from neighbouring countries. We quickly noticed that the supply of hand sanitisers did not meet the demand, and the prices were so high that they were not affordable for the average South Sudanese. Available products also failed to meet the WHO recommendation of at least 65% alcohol content for an effective hand sanitiser. This resulted in a false sense of security from COVID-19 for those who used them.

To respond to those shortcomings, the GoGirls team produced higher-quality hand sanitisers to help their communities. The team started searching for an existing laboratory in the country so that they could at least buy ethanol for use, but we did not find a laboratory that sold or produced ethanol. At GoGirls, we believe in sharing open knowledge with stakeholders, so we reached out to the schools that were part of the science educators’ hackathon that led to the creation of the Open Science Framework for Classroom Experimentation, challenging them and the GoGirls team to come up with a hand sanitiser from locally available resources in South Sudan. 

The science educators’ hackathon was organized and hosted by the GoGirls ICT initiative in 2020 to find ways to improve feedback channels between curriculum developers, policymakers, teachers and learners or break stereotypes of girls not taking sciences. During this session, three key discussion points took centre stage: What Innovative #OpenScience approaches can be used to conduct Science experiments in Primary and Secondary Schools? How can Science Educators, Schools and Institutes of Higher learning collaborate to bridge the gap between theory and investigations related to science? And how can science teachers improvise with locally available materials /resources to overcome the challenge of limited or no materials for conducting experiments?

As usual, the team of teachers, who were chemistry and biology experts from these schools, were all male except the GoGirls team, who were female. The GoGirls team pondered how women could gain more agency and take on leading roles in the research and development process of hand sanitiser.

While pondering on how to integrate women better, we realised that there is a large community of female brewers in South Sudan who have been brewing alcoholic drinks and who made a livelihood out of its sales. Through the male teachers, we connected with these local female brewers. We organized a joint one-day capacity-building session on distilling highly concentrated alcohol for making hand sanitisers in one of the schools. Through this session, we came to learn the ingredients the women use in making their alcoholic drinks. This included the spices or fruits they use to mask the smell of the strong alcohol, the correct measurements of ingredients they use, how long they ferment before they make the alcohol, the time they usually distil their alcohol and the kind of temperatures they maintain when distilling. Based on this knowledge -shared by women for women, the GoGirls team was able to decide how to move forward with producing a hand sanitiser that would help their local communities. They decided what they would use, such as orange epicarps as an oxidant, and when they should be added to the brew before they distilled. They were enabled to distil highly-concentrated alcohol (Ethanol), above 80%, that can be diluted with other reagents to 60% and be used as a hand sanitiser. 

That’s how the female brewers and the GoGirls team produced a hand sanitiser locally. These local female brewers make their alcoholic drinks based on methods and traditions handed down to them from their ancestors, directly from their mothers and grandmothers over generations. These methods and productions are upheld over generations because they demonstrate reliability. 

Without their locally embedded contribution, the intention to solve a lack of crucial hand sanitisers through local production wouldn’t have succeeded. During our engagement with the female brewers, we didn’t face any resistance from them because we have been collaborating in an engaged, co-creative manner, in which they have been part of the entire process of producing the ethanol. 

Since South Sudan lacked any laboratories in which we could handle our product, the team opted for methods such as combustion analysis. An alcohol sample is weighed and then burned in a furnace in excess oxygen to test the percentages of the alcohol produced by the women compared to the industrial ethanol provided by one of the schools during this experimentation phase. This was done on-site, in the GoGirls office or Juba Day secondary school laboratory. It’s such open collaborations that advance Citizen Social Sciences. Bringing a new product to the local market is exciting but entails the challenging step of gaining the trust of its potential. To build trust with the potential target customers, the GoGirls team distributed their first product sample to different individuals for free to get their feedback. We also reached out to the South Sudan Bureau of Standards (SSBS) for certification of the hand sanitiser brand in South Sudan. However, the fact that the SSBS was not involved from the beginning of this research process created a gap, as they couldn’t understand which kind of ethanol we were using. We had to re-do the process of producing the Ethanol and making the hand sanitiser with them. After clearly understanding our operation, the Gosanitize hand sanitiser brand has been certified and approved for official sales in the South Sudan market, like any other product by SSBS, as it meets all industry requirements. Based on this experience, the SSBS changed their perspective on locally distilled Ethanol.

However, new obstacles also arose. With the product approved, the Bureau of Standards requested to inspect the Laboratory/space where the production process is. Unfortunately, such a space didn’t exist for GoGirls. But we mobilized resources to acquire a shipping container modified to laboratory space. With the support of the Bureau of Standards, they recommended the equipment we need in this laboratory to aid the production of hand sanitisers.

Furthermore, the Bureau of Standards raised the question of the safety of the local female brewers since they are producing highly concentrated and flammable alcohol. Based on this, the GoGirls team and an expert from SSBS held a peer-to-peer virtual exchange with Bibliothèque-MboaLab, based in Cameroon, to learn from their sanitisers’ production methodologies to understand how they are addressing the question of laboratory member safety in their lab.

 Bibliothèque-MboaLab is a lab committed to educating, transforming and positively impacting the lives of the Cameroonian people through its DIY (Do It Yourself).

In another session, the GoGirls team, together with our local female brewers, held a capacity-building workshop to learn from each other which safety precautions they have normally in place when distilling alcohol. The team was able to document these practices, adapt them to the South Sudanese context, and present their safety plan to the Bureau of Standards for approval. The Bureau accepted them as Standards of Operation (SOP) for the brewers and the team.

Today, Gosanitize is legally recognized as an independent entity and a social enterprise under the constitutional laws of South Sudan authorized to produce hand sanitisers, disinfectants, rubbing alcohol and ethanol for schools. Through this laboratory, students, both boys and girls, from three schools within Juba have been able to test their science theories practically. 

Image 1: Gosanitize laboratory safety measures for the female brewers


Have you ever wondered what role Citizen Social Science plays in bringing Science back to its ‘original owners’? The different approaches applied in this research by GoGirls ICT Initiative clearly reflect science being more social and open than we think. A key element needed in driving STEM education.

Read more: