California Sister Carolyn Buhs serves as librarian for the Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio, South Sudan. She, along with members of other religious congregations, form the Solidarity With South Sudan organization. They live in several communities across the country where they train teachers, nurses, midwives, local farmers and community leaders.
The government of South Sudan has mandated that all schools move from an Arabic pattern of education, which was imposed by in the 1950’s, to English as the medium of education. Solidarity for South Sudan has delivered training and English language courses to more than 2000 existing teachers, and constructed two teacher training colleges, including in Yambio, where Sr. Carolyn is based. Unfortunately, the other teacher training college in Malakal is not currently operating as it has been totally looted and severely damaged in the civil unrest. If you would like to make a U.S.-based tax-deductible donation to support the work of Solidarity With South Sudan, please visit: www.solidarityfriends.org
In late June 2017, Pope Francis directed that more than $500,000 in aid be devoted to Catholic organizations in South Sudan, with a large portion going to the the Solidarity With South Sudan organization and the teacher’s college where Sr. Carolyn Buhs serves. Read the Washington Post’s report of the story here, and see the updates below from Sr. Carolyn and Br. Bill below.
Sr. Carolyn’s Update, received in June 2017
Greetings from Yambio!
God bless Pope Francis for his powerful way of bringing attention to South Sudan and the need for peace here. What a vote of confidence for the work of teacher training we are doing here! Our Level Three and Four students are entering their fourth week of practice teaching. Now our students know the names of their pupils and their pupils are appreciating the ways our students are helping them to learn English, Math, Social Studies, Science and CRE. God bless our students! We tutors who visit the schools for supervision can see the improvement in our students as they keep trying to use learner-centered teaching methods.
Brother Bill has included wonderful photos of our tutors here in Yambio….the community of men and women religious with whom I share ministry and life. I’m not in any photo because I was in Nairobi trying to buy books for our new library when Paul Jeffreys came to Yambio. God bless Sr. Phyllis Cook of the Kenya Unit for her support and help in the Nairobi book buying project!!!
Thank you for your prayerful support. Below is a message from Br. Bill, plus his attached longer message and photos.
April Update/Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity With South Sudan
Wow! A direct grant from the Pope. What else can I say? Wow! What could be more encouraging and affirming? Today, I pay tribute to my dedicated colleagues in South Sudan, especially to the members of our Yambio community, persons of diverse nationalities and personalities from a mixture of congregations. These recent photos, taken and captioned, by Paul Jeffrey, tell the story. There is no need for me to say more. I can lay claim only to the mundane library shots – but it a is a great new learning centre!.
Best wishes to all,
To read Brother Bill’s full update about Pope Francis’ gift to Solidarity With South Sudan, click here: South Sudan 176. Papal Encouragement
Sr. Carolyn’s Update, received in May 2017
Brother Bill has been moving around South Sudan while I visited our SNDs in Langata, Kenya, the last week of April. Our Solidarity Community here in Yambio sent me to Nairobi for a week to buy books for our new Library at the Textbook Center. God bless Sr. Phyllis Cook who was able to come for a visit to Nairobi from Malava ahead of her schedule. The day after arriving in Nairobi I came down with malaria. Phyllis helped me reach three textbook Centers: Galleria Shopping Mall in Langata, Kijabe Stree in downtown Nairobi, and Sarit Center Mall in Westlands. What a whirlwind tour! I was able to buy three boxes of beautiful books and a roll of colorful science charts that will help our students on teaching practice. I was able to return to Juba with two boxes of books as my checked in luggage. We hope the Christian Brothers with whom we teach here in Yambio will bring the other box and the roll of charts.
I also waited in the tents of the Juba Airport and tried to avoid falling in the holes.
The rains have come and the temperature is a bit cooler, Alleluia!!! We’ve begun the second trimester of the year. This time I’m teaching Christian Religious Education. Soon we’ll be gearing up for teaching practice, God willing.
Thank you for keeping us in your prayer. Our students gather each morning for prayer for peace and some exercises in trauma healing…..a very peaceful beginning for the day.
April Update/Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity With South Sudan
We are not permitted to take photographs at the airport, nor near bridges, nor of the military. I guess it is a throwback rule to when there was civil war with the north and there may have been some strategic significance of this injunction. Juba airport is now a set of tents with loose plywood flooring on bricks – and now with significant holes in some sections. I joke not. The ‘new terminal’ destined to be opened in time for independence in 2011 looms cavernous and unfinished. The old terminal is being extended into a new, ‘new terminal’. So for the past few months one enters and exists through tents. There is no separation of international and domestic – other than the check-in desks. There is only one departure gap – can’t say gate as there isn’t one. I can’t show photographs or I would not be writing this. We get by but Juba airport is not my favourite place. Needless to say there is no announcement system other than the human voice and no air-conditioning other than a raised tent flap. There are too few seats that are not broken. Thank God I look old enough that someone usually offers me a seat, even a broken one. Check-in is two hours before, even for short, internal flights. There is no coffee lounge.
So when I write of all the places I visit, please remember the penance I have done! But it is good to be back with our dedicated Solidarity team sharing the troubled journey of the very good people of South Sudan.
– Br Bill
Click here: 174.The Long View to read Br. Bill’s full reflection for the month.
Sr. Carolyn’s Update, received in March 2017
Greetings from Yambio!
Sunday, during Mass, I marveled at the golden globes of fruit hanging high in the giant mango trees around St. Mary’s Church. The morning sun caused the fruit to glow!
Thank you for your many messages of concern and assurance of prayer for the people of South Sudan who are suffering from famine….a famine induced by the war. The Internally Displaced People in Riimenze now number about 6,000. The Solidarity farm is still harvesting sweet potatoes so the people there still have food. We at the College are grateful for the green peppers and mangoes from the farm.
Our Level Three and Four students (now 50 in number) have completed exams and have spent the past week intensively working at preparing Schemes of Work for four weeks for each of three subjects they are beginning to teach this week in eleven primary schools in Yambio town. Some schools only have 15 in a class. These are private schools requiring tuition. Other schools, run by the government, may have 120 pupils in a class. Many of these children have been displaced by the insecurity outside of Yambio town. What a terrific challenge for our students! God bless them! Tomorrow five of us staff will go to the schools to supervise our students in action!
We continue to pray for peace. Thank you for joining us in this prayer.
Below is the message from Brother Bill who is on his home leave in Australia. The photos are of the Internally Displaced People in UN Protection camps in Juba and Malakal.
March Update/Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity for Sudan
On my first extended leave since 2014, I am in Australia attending to all the necessary things that are not so easy to achieve in South Sudan: so far three dental appointments and more to come. I have new spectacles bringing the world into sharper focus. I have reactivated various cards that had passed their use-by-date and done some shopping. There are, of course, plenty of clothes available in South Sudan but my squat morphology is not common: I don’t fit the shape of most of the clothes they make! I found, on arrival in Melbourne, that my phone would not work. When I went to Telstra, I discovered I have a 2G phone, an obsolete kind no longer used in Australia. There are now many ‘smart phones’ in South Sudan but, having had a couple of phones stolen, I think it smarter to keep it simple!
More importantly, I am catching up with family and some friends. I was lucky to be here for a couple of family gatherings and a well-attended school reunion where they conducted a raffle with the proceeds given to me to take back to assist the people of South Sudan. The generosity and good will of people is enormous. It is a change to have people giving me money rather than asking for it. Solidarity with South Sudan is not a relief agency; we remain focused on building capacity by training teachers, nurses, midwives, pastoral workers and farmers. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the needs of those among whom we live and work. Our continuing presence there gives the people hope. It is a good place for me to be, short-term, but very difficult for those who call South Sudan home. I thank Paul Jeffrey for taking most of the attached photos. – Br Bill
Read Brother Bill’s full reflection here: 173. Another World
Sr. Carolyn’s Update, received in January 2017
Greetings from Yambio!
Thank you for your continued prayer for us in South Sudan. Here in the Teacher Training College we have begun the new semester with 120 students, the largest enrollment we’ve ever had. The students from all over South Sudan and from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. Our new library is about three times the size of the old one which is now being used as a classroom. Our students really appreciate the spaciousness and larger sized furniture and come often for study and research. Our wish is for more tutors to teach our students. Brother Bill shares the painful reality of the 5,000 displaced people now camping in the Riimenze church compound. We all continue to pray for peace.
January Update/Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity for Sudan
Last August, I wrote about the good news, the positive situation in Riimenze, South Sudan (no.167). Today that situation no longer exists. Has the agriculture project collapsed? No. The people are simply the victims of a callous civil war in which they have never wanted to participate. I suspect that what has happened in Riimenze has happened in other parts of South Sudan but it is not being reported. The situation is not hopeless. All the Government has to do is allow the people to go back to their homes and subsistence agriculture – and for the rebels also to leave them alone. Is that too much to ask? Most homes have been looted and destroyed but the people are resilient. They will rebuild their simple homes. Food will be a problem short-term as many people were not able to go to their gardens to harvest their crops. Several of our religious congregations and donor partners have responded generously with funding sufficient for the immediate needs. Unlike many in the Protection of Civilian camps in Juba and other places, these people do have homes and properties to which they can return. All it needs is for them to be assured they can go home without fear. There is far too much fear in South Sudan.
Significantly for us, neither the rebels nor the Government soldiers have threatened us. Indeed, they have made it explicitly clear they appreciate what we are doing and neither our missionary personnel nor our large farm, including the animals, have been touched. The photos from Sr Rosa tell a sad story. Thank you to Rosa, Margo, Josephine & Christian for the extraordinary help they are giving, and to all who are supporting our valiant Solidarity members in Riimenze. It is not the mission we planned but it is the one that now confronts us. We pray that the local people may be allowed to go home before the wet season sets in.
Read the rest of Brother Bill’s reflection here: Brother Bill S Sudan Update 172
Sr. Carolyn’s Update, received in November 2016
Happy Thanksgiving to all our Sisters, family, and friends in the United States!
Advent Seasons Blessings to all!
Thank you for keeping us in your prayer. Two days before the end of our students’ teaching practice we heard a gun battle at 6:20am for 30 minutes. It sounded so close. Our students stayed in the College. The primary schools were closed for two days. Since most of our students are boarders, the Level One and Two students carried on with their end of Semester exams, God bless them! Security was restored to Yambio and we were able to celebrate Graduation Day for 26 students last Thursday. What a joyous day!! Those graduates have now left for their home villages where they will help in promoting peace and justice through education, God willing!
Brother Bill’s reflections and photos follow and are attached. The photo of Brother Denis was taken in the small couryard of our Solidarity guest house in Juba. God bless Denis and Bill for their tireless work in helping us carry on here in Yambio! Again, thank you for your prayerful support.
November Update/Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity for Sudan
The two paragraphs below are from Brother Bill’s update. Read the full text here: Brother Bill’s Update 170
South Sudan is a resource rich country with plenty of arable land, water and oil, but the potential prosperity has been squandered in disagreements between tribal leaders creating confusion and disorder. The hopeful, optimistic people at the time of independence have been reduced to a people living in fear of losing what little they have left. Many are hungry.Literally millions have been displaced from their homes, driven away by violent intrusions and attacks by their own army and so called security forces.
Unfortunately, the leaders of South Sudan have made some dreadful choices. I can’t do much about that but I can make my own choice. My Solidarity companions and I make the choice to be here because we are creating opportunity for the South Sudanese. That is our motivation and conviction.
Sr. Carolyn’s Update, received in October 2016
Greetings from Juba!
My flight from San Francisco to Dubai was long. I enjoyed watching “Jungle Book” for some of that flight. The night in Dubai was long and quiet. The flight from Dubai to Juba offered me an air view of the tallest building in the world…..Burj Khalif in downtown Dubai. I arrived about 2:30pm in Juba on Friday. Tomorrow, Monday, I’ll fly to Yambio. I’m looking forward to seeing the Solidarity Community there and the students. The library is now getting a roof!
I’m grateful for the blessed days I enjoyed in California with such happy visits with Sisters, family, and friends. God bless and keep you! I’m very grateful for your prayerful support.
Below is a message from Brother Bill. Attached you will find his longer reflection and the newsletter about the new Peace Center that has just opened. Maybe one day I’ll be able to make a retreat there, God willing!
October Update/Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity for Sudan
The project of the combined Religious in South Sudan to build a centre for human, pastoral and spiritual formation, peace building and trauma healing for South Sudanese and church personnel – lay, clergy and religious – at Kit near Juba, South Sudan, was launched officially by Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro on 11th October 2014. Thanks to the drive and energy of Fr Daniele Moschetti, Chairperson of the Association, and of Comboni Brother, Hans Eigner, a skilled engineer, this centre, now named as the ‘Good Shepherd Peace Centre’ will be blessed and opened on this coming Saturday, 15th October, 2016.
Given the conflict within the country and the difficulty this posed in bringing in materials and employing a capable workforce, the completion of this Centre is a remarkable achievement. More than 2.7 million US dollars were raised to construct the Centre and it has been completed within budget. Brother Denis has put many hours into the project bookkeeping and banking.
Appropriate ecological systems have been used, consisting of a 50 kWp solar power system, a straw shredder and briquetting press to replace the use of firewood and charcoal, a solar hot water system for kitchen and laundry and a wastewater biological treatment plant. There are forty, en-suite bedrooms each capable of taking two beds plus a youth hostel that can accommodate 60. Instead of photos, I am attaching a copy of the August edition of the ‘Kit Center News’ that shows the buildings nearing completion.
The initial community to staff the Centre consists of a South Sudanese Comboni Priest, two members of Solidarity with South Sudan – a Vincentian priest from the Philippines, and a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from the USA – plus a Jesuit priest from Rwanda and a St Martin De Porres Brother from Uganda. It is being staffed by a team living unity in diversity.
That the Centre exists at all shows that a lot can be achieved against the odds. It is a gift of hope for the people of South Sudan and especially for all who will go there.
– Br Bill
Sr. Carolyn’s Update, received in September 2016
Greetings from Belmont!
Thank you for keeping South Sudan in your prayer. Brother Bill’s reflection about the good work of the Loreto Sisters in Rumbek is very encouraging. Praise God!
I’m enjoying cool, breezy days in California and the chance to connect with Sisters, family, and friends around Belmont. God is Good!
Please continue to pray for peace for South Sudan.
August Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity for Sudan
The immediate outlook in South Sudan remains uncertain but many NGO personnel are now returning. A delegation from the UN Security Council is here. The clear message is that the world Is not abandoning the people of this strife-torn nation. I am not too old to notice that many of the returning foreign workers are young women! Notwithstanding recent terrible events described in the worldwide media, including the rape of foreigners, one has to admire the courage of these workers. I am witnessing the ‘miracle’ of what people are prepared to do when they are really motivated.
Last week, I was in Rumbek where I saw another, modern-day ‘miracle’ in which courage and the intelligent use of resources provided by generous donors, is also helping the people here in this time of great need and vulnerability. Unfortunately, the high attendance rate of both teachers and students at Loreto is not typical of many schools in South Sudan. The story of the ‘Loaves and Fishes’, and the emphasis given by Pope Francis on the duty of people of faith to care and to share, was brought home to me. The holistic, Loreto approach shows how powerful a school can be in helping the deserving poor move from surviving to thriving
Read about the “modern miracle”: Loaves & Fishes
There are good things happening in South Sudan.
– Br Bill
Sr Carolyn’s Update, received in August 2016
Brother Bill’s sharing about our Solidarity Community in Riimenze is very encouraging.
Our 106 students’ favorite food is groundnut sauce with cassava leaves on Bakinde, a kind of cassava and maize stiff porridge. It takes a farm to supply the students with food! It takes us an hour on a bad road to visit the community in Riimenze. Some years ago the journey took half an hour. That was before the road deteriorated.
Tomorrow I will fly to Juba and then on Friday to Dubai and then…..to California! I’m looking forward to seeing family, Sisters and friends!!! (NOTE: Sister Carolyn is safely with us us California for a visit!)
Thank you for keeping us in prayer. Every morning our students gather for a Prayer Assembly for Peace. Maybe twice a day we hear and see military helicopters flying overhead. God bless and keep you.
July Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity for Sudan
FORWARDING NOTE FROM BROTHER BILL: The political situation In South Sudan is far from stable. Theories abound, some more speculative than others. I am not going to add to them. It is simply not clear what is happening, nor why. There is certainly fighting in parts of the country but, in places where we are living and working, peace continues to prevail. Unfortunately, there are no real signs of healing or reconciliation and disintegrating law and order is a major concern. The economy seems to be collapsing with estimates of an inflation rate between 600% and 1,000% depending on where you take your starting point. Use-by-dates – totally ignored by me – have become my friend. I simply shop for bargains and buy up big when I can. We have yet to find anything inedible even if it is outdated!
Here in Juba many people are very hungry. Even in the UN Protection of Civilian camps people often do not get enough to eat as the supplies in the biggest storage depot of the World Food Programme were looted during the outbreak of violence in early July. But the many pictures I am attaching to this report tell a different story in Riimenze where we have been developing a Sustainable Agriculture Project. This project heralds a way forward for the development of more self-sustainability in South Sudan. ‘From little things, good things grow!’
– Br Bill
Click here to see Brother Bill’s reflection for the month: 167. Nurture & Growth
Sr Carolyn’s Update, July 2016
Greetings from Yambio!
Yesterday we began the second semester with the students who are here. We have about six students stranded in Juba, wanting to come here. The planes don’t seem to be working this way and the road is too dangerous with thieves. This week we begin each day with an hour’s prayer and song for peace with our students. Our students’ singing is so very joyful and full of hope and life.
Br. Bill’s Solidarity photo was taken in Juba where we enjoyed our Annual Solidarity Assembly. I’m very grateful for the time together and for the blessing that nine of us were able to fly to Yambio before the terrible fighting erupted in Juba just before the fifth Anniversary of South Sudan’s Independence.
Brother Bill’s reflections tell of the horrors of death and displacement in Juba. Thank you for keeping us in your prayer.
June Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity for Sudan
In a letter to Church personnel a few days ago, the Archbishop of Juba wrote:
“The security situation in Juba has deteriorated since 7th July, 2016. A ceasefire has been in place since the evening of 11th July and is currently holding. However, the security situation remains unstable… For our expatriate missionaries and lay personnel who choose to leave Juba for a safe place, please write to the Archbishop. As we continue to pray for a lasting peace in South Sudan, let us be strong and of good courage for the Lord our God is with us in this difficult moment. Please remember that all of us are pastors by vocation in any way to our people in this situation, not only when the situation is peaceful’.
In difficult times, we have more to offer, perhaps, than in stable times. The people know we can leave but are encouraged when we chose to stay with them. ‘Could you not watch one hour with me?’ takes on a new meaning. We do not share the inter-tribal fears that have been inflamed since December 2013. We stand to one side and can pour a little water on the fire or apply healing balm to those who have been burned by the callous actions of others. We are called to live our Christian faith. As Archbishop Paolino wrote: ‘be strong and of good courage because the Lord our God is with us in this difficult moment’. I invite you to join us in praying for a lasting peace in South Sudan.
– Br Bill
No-one to Cry
Denis had seen the man a few times. He had appeared occasionally outside of our fence in the evening, apparently homeless, finding a place to sleep. He did not beg or ask for anything but Denis had given him water and a bread roll. On Saturday afternoon, he died there on the street – alone. Our neighbours alerted us. The police came and took the body away. Nobody knows his name or where he came from. Another life ended in South Sudan. For somebody, somewhere, he is a missing person, perhaps a father, brother or son, just another statistic in a nation where all too many die and nobody knows. They just disappear.
A few days ago, a father of six, the brother of a Nuer Malakal priest, Bulus Dirpeny, was shot and killed. The man was on his way to stay with his brother, Fr. Bulus, because he did not feel safe. A killing based on ethnicity. Earlier this year, we welcomed South Sudanese–born married Deacon, George Meat Piech to stay with us while visiting Juba from Melbourne, Australia. His cousin often came to meet him here, an impressive, upright man. His cousin was stopped at a checkpoint eight days ago and killed – simply because he was Nuer. There is no accountability for these actions, no effective system of justice. But at least these men who died have loved ones who mourn their passing. A small consolation. Many people here have one or more relatives who have simply disappeared, probably dead, victims of a senseless conflict. How is it that so many can die, so much fear can exist, when the great majority of people long for peace? Can the dead rest in peace when the living do not live in peace?
Often worse than the reality are the rumours that exaggerate the dangers and put people on edge. One person’s conjecture, when re-told to others, can become another person’s substantiated belief. The shadow of danger can cloak the mind with fear of something that never happens. It has been six days since fighting ceased in Juba; but still a massive exodus of expatriates continues. Most of the South Sudanese have no such option. Indeed, I don’t know why, but some South Sudanese who have dual citizenship with another country, have been blocked from leaving. Who gives such an order or is it just the action of individuals inflated with their own sense of power and self-importance?
Yesterday, one member of the St Martin De Porres Brothers (a local congregation), was arbitrarily abducted by National Security personnel. I can’t say arrested because we do not know the reasons or status of their actions. I do know that the violence imposed on the people by security personal, soldiers and police, is one of the biggest factor causing instability. They seem to think their uniforms and their guns give them the right to take whatever they want and do whatever they wish, without any fear of consequences. When soldiers are unpaid because the Government has no money to pay them, many of those soldiers loot, rape and take from the vulnerable. This is the consequence of a broken economy: those who are supposed to protect society become the perpetrators of violence. It is the law of the jungle: survival of the fittest! Here, when violence breaks out, the people flee to ‘the bush’. I wonder how many will die like the man at our gate – undernourished, without shelter, isolated, alone, no-one to cry at their passing.
So where to from here? Our Health Training Institute (CHTI) and Teacher Training College (STTC) are still operating. Indeed, a new class has just begun at the STTC and our CHTI students have helped valiantly to keep the hospitals operating in Wau. We have heard of other training institutes closing, citing lack of staff or lack of food. Our students are secure in their Colleges and are still studying so that they can help create a better South Sudan. This is not the time to give up. Already I hear comments almost of surprise: ‘You are stlll here?’ The truth is we know there are some dangers but we are not going to be frightened off by what might happen. Our continued presence gives our students and the wider people hope. They see that we really are here to accompany them on their painful journey.
In fact, we do not share all their pain. We are still well-fed while many are hungry. We have secure, brick compounds in which we live while so many people are in fragile grass huts or are displaced from their humble homes. . We have back-up and outside resources; the little that many people here possessed has been taken from them. Across our street a five-year-old child, Lodule, cheekily roams the streets when his mother locks the house each day while she is in the market trying to earn enough to survive. Not exactly good parenting but she has little choice. We have choice. That is itself a gift.
Sr Carolyn’s Update, June 2016
Greetings from Yambio on this Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time! The Church here in Yambio is celebrating the Sacred Heart of Jesus today! Both gospels show the merciful love of Jesus for us.
Br. Bill’s reflection is beautiful and hopeful about the valiant Sr. Orla, Loretto Sister Headmistress of the wonderful Loretto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek, and the valiant Holy Spirit Sister Veronika, doctor in Yei. The three SPLA soldiers who shot Sr. Veronika have been arrested and will be tried. They are boy soldiers between the ages of 16 and 18. Did they ever have the chance of primary education, let alone secondary education?
Here at Solidarity Teacher’s Training College Yambio we are reeling with the news of the death of our beloved fellow tutor and friend, Christian Brother Pascal. He was buried in Arusha, Tanzania, yesterday. A few weeks ago he had flown to Kenya to be with his dying father and to bury him. While visiting with the Christian Brothers in Arusha, Pascal was in a matatu(taxi) that overturned. Six of the eight passengers died. Pascal was one of the six. We received the news last Sunday evening. We and all our students were so shocked. Monday we had no classes. It was a day of grieving. The College Compound was so very quiet. In the afternoon we had a Prayer Service with candles and time for sharing our love for this talented, enthusiastic teacher.
Tomorrow our thirty Level 3 and 4 students will begin their student practice teaching in nine schools. Please keep our students in your prayer. Thank you for the way you do pray for us. How else could we have the strength to continue? In the past five months we’ve lost three outstanding tutors…Pascal and our two Sisters who were traumatized in December.
Wishing you blessings for the month of the Sacred Heart!
June Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity for Sudan
I write today of two women in South Sudan, one a missionary whose life was tragically ended in unprovoked violence last week; and one a young woman who, against the odds, has just graduated from Loreto School in Rumbek: two women of great character from very different backgrounds, whose own words convey strong and moving messages.
The first is Sr Veronica SSpS, a Holy Spirit Sister, a medical doctor and hospital administrator well known to many of us. I attach a brief summary of the event of her tragic death last week, as written by her congregation. In early 2014, not long after violent conflict erupted in South Sudan, Veronica herself wrote the following, faith-filled words:
- “Recently somebody asked me why I am staying here under such circumstances. Why- Because Jesus continued his way and did not give up when it became difficult. He accepted suffering, hardships and carried the cross till the end. He remained obedient to the will of the Father. He was always with the people. He did not abandon them. He was even ready to accept the death, because he loved them. Being a woman disciple of Jesus I am following the footsteps of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. I cannot leave the people of South Sudan because I love them. They are happy that we stay with them, pray with them and work together building this young and fragile country. The people need our support, prayer and help.”
The second young woman, whom I have met on my visits to Loreto for School Board meetings, wrote as follows. I have changed only her name.
- ‘I am Mary Theresa Legge. I am the first born in a family of quiet a good number of children, six stepmothers and several aunts and uncles. The size of the family made it too hard for me to attend my studies regularly. This was because I had to do my domestic duties which at times prevented me from going to school. This was worst especially when I was in primary. My stepmothers with whom I stayed wanted me to sit at home doing domestic work as my young step siblings went to school.My mother got pregnant when she was a young girl by my father. Her father did not want my father so he gave her to another man and my father took me. He gave me to my stepmothers with whom I stay today. These women were not good to me and kept pushing me from one person to another working for them. Sometimes, I went to school late because I had to first sweep a large compound, wash the dishes, fill the pots with water and prepare breakfast before going to school. I found the school gate locked and consequently I received a lot of beatings from my teachers. This made me cry bitterly because nobody understood what I was going through.If I went to school without doing any one of my domestic duties, my stepmother beat me and refused me from eating lunch and supper. Lunch was not a problem to me because I was used to live without it.
- In the morning when I went to school, I had to carry the money with me so that I passed by the market to buy what to cook for supper after school. I dropped my school bag on arriving home and went straight to the kitchen to prepare supper. I only rested at night when I shared one thin mattress with my two cousins. My father used to leave very early in the morning and come late in the evening. He did not know much of what I was going through and I did not make any step to tell him because he would have even beat them. That was the last thing I wanted, so I chose to keep it for myself.
Most of my age mates who experienced life almost like mine looked for husbands and advised me to do the same. They said it was the only way I would have found peace and love but I refused. My father struggled to make sure I stayed in school though I was academically poor. Resources to educate me were also a huge problem with all the number of children he had. I struggled to finish primary school.I miraculously passed my exams. This gave me more hope and interest to continue my studies.
After my primary school, I had no idea of what I could do next. My father could not manage to continue my studies because he lost the only lumbering machine which was the only source of our income. It was stolen by the co-workers of my father. God with mighty works and opened another way as I was almost giving up. He got a job and I also heard of Loreto which my father suggested immediately when he got a job. I prayed so hard to God so as I get an admission and God answered my prayers. The first day I arrived at school, I was taken to the dormitory by my ‘school mother’. The fact that Loreto was a boarding school made me so happy. As I stood there that day, I knew it would have been my next home. A home that I had loved so much and longed for.
The school made me discover my very self that God had given me but did not know. As I stayed in school doing my studies, I started doing very well academically. I discovered that I only needed a place like this to resurrect. I have discovered that boarding school is the best for girls to wake up and discover themselves like I did. Today, I have finished my secondary education and working with my school, getting experience as I wait for God to open a way for me to continue. I believe that even in the darkest hour of life, God can still show his might and power.’
Sr Veronica wrote: ‘He (Jesus) did not abandon them. He was even ready to accept the death, because he loved them.’
Veronica, an immensely talented woman gave her life so that others may come to know, as Mary Theresa said, ‘that even in the darkest hour of life, God can still show his might and power,’ a might and power, not imposed by soldiers with weapons, but delivered with the profound tenderness of one who cares for others.
Sr Carolyn’s Update, May 2016
Greetings from Yambio in South Sudan!
In three weeks our Level Three and Four students will sit their final exams and then they’ll go to visit the schools where they will be doing their teaching practice. This is an exciting time for the students and us tutors. I so appreciate seeing how our students manage teaching in unusual places….some are under trees or in classrooms with collapsing walls, many have stones, cans, or whatever to sit on. We are very grateful for the security we’ve been enjoying that allows the students and children to attend the primary schools.
In Brother Bill’s reflection (Br. Bill Firman FSC is executive director of Solidarity for South Sudan) he shares about our former student Gatwech from Malakal who is trying to set up a school in the UN Camp in Juba. Gatwech and I were on the same plane coming to Yambio in 2015. I’m very proud of him. God bless him!
Thank you for remembering us in your prayer.
Reflection by Brother Bill Firman FSC, executive director of Solidarity for Sudan
There is no doubt that there are still underlying tensions and deep divisions within South Sudan society. There have already been a few, muted reports of confrontation between the forces of Salva Kiir (President of S. Sudan) and Riek Machar (Vice-President and former leader of the Opposition during the civil war in South Sudan). How could there not be after so much hostility, slaughter and destruction during the past 28 months? So many people have lost loved ones. Too many people have been left homeless with nowhere to go—and no-one anywhere ready to welcome them.
The trauma of witnessing so much destruction, lustful killing and rape is hard to overcome. A long period of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation is needed. Easy to say, but not so easy to do. But the first steps have been taken. The people want peace. The currency is not stable but the upward spiral has at least paused. Juba airport is open again on Saturdays and Sundays after a year of closure. The very hot summer has passed. Most goods are available if you can afford to pay for them– r wait in the long lines at the few petrol stations actually selling fuel. Now that the Transitional Government has been formed, the international community is more likely to offer support.
Some reports say that up to half the people are hungry with not enough to eat. It is actually noticeable on the street that many people look very thin. I am sorry I am not one of them! But there is hope of better times and a slow recovery. Hope is infinitely better than hopeless.
I have had a series of meetings recently with one of our teacher training graduates, Gatwech Wiyual. ‘Gatwech’ means ‘son of the land’. Gatwech is from Malakal and was one of those students who was part way through his teacher training studies when the violence erupted in late 2013 causing the closure of our Malakal campus. With funds provided by donors, we were able to move Gatwech to Yambio where he completed his formal training but he cannot yet go back to Malakal as it is still not safe there. Hence, he is living in a UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) camp in Juba where the UN provide food and shelter, but not schooling. So Gatwech, and thirteen other secondary school graduates, eight of whom are trained, have begun their own voluntary school for more than 300 primary school children. Gatwech has been meeting with me to plan an appeal for funds to purchase basic school materials. It is inspiring to see these unpaid teachers trying to create opportunity for at least some of the children in this crowded PoC camp.
It is not all tribal division in South Sudan. In fact, in this school that they have called, somewhat pretentiously, the ‘Upper Nile Learning Centre’, they are teaching not only the basic subjects of English, Maths, Science, Christian Religious Education and Social Studies but also Nuer, Shilluk and Anyuak. You are more likely to be friends when you speak one another’s language. It is a rocky road in South Sudan but, if we look ahead, there are signs the path is becoming smoother.