Update: Sr. Carolyn in South Sudan

Sr. Carolyn Buhs has served with Solidarity with South Sudan since October 2011. Her work includes training teachers and editing teaching materials. While many foreigners left the country in December 2013 when fighting broke out, the foreign religious with Solidarity with South Sudan have chosen to stay and continue their work. Unfortunately, fighting, killing and looting has continued in January and February.

March 3, 2014: Greetings from Rumbek in the heart of South Sudan! Yesterday was the last day of In-Service Teacher Training for 81 primary school teachers. We gave six exams to each teacher in English, Math, Social Studies, Science, Christian Religious Education, and Professional Studies. Yesterday was the closing day and the giving of report cards.

When Brother Bill’s letter arrived we were heavy into exam preparation. Four days later we hear news of the third attack on Malakal. This attack was worse than the previous two in December and January. It seems the rebels have more weapons and ammunition. We hear that our College is still standing. There was not any burning in the north part of town where our College is. We had hoped to visit Malakal this coming week in order to retrieve anything that had been left behind by the looters. Now, that hope is dashed and we continue to wait. Malakal now joins the list of “ghost” towns with Bor, Bentiu and Leer. We praise God that the Comboni Missionaries who fled Leer with their parishioners into the bush have been evacuated.

The workshop and retreat that Brother Bill refers to is scheduled for mid-March here in Rumbek and I will join the Malakal priests, brothers and sisters for a shared time of trauma healing.

On Monday, I will fly to Wau to help teach English to a group of young women who want to enter the health training program there, but their secondary schooling was in Arabic. I look forward to meeting those women, some of whom may be from the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. I’m also curious to see how that western part of South Sudan looks.

Thank you for your prayerful support. Please continue praying that the peace negotiations will be more inclusive and binding.

February 10, 2014: Greetings from Rumbek in the heart of South Sudan! The terrible devastation and killing that went on in Greater Upper Nile Region has been heart-rending to read about. Our five Solidarity members who were in Malakal during the beginning of the attacks there are still processing their experience. From reports we hear, people are still living in the UN compound and in church and school compounds because they fear renewed attacks. We are realizing that we will not be able to begin the first semester of Pre-Service in March as had been planned. The people of Malakal have not yet begun to return to their homes to live.

teacher training in Yambio
Teacher training in Yambio. Photo by Br. Bill Furman.

Our Malakal staff was delighted to come to Rumbek in January to stay in the lovely Loreto Sisters convent and to teach the seven week In-Service Course here to about 85 primary school teachers in three grade levels. We’ve now completed four weeks of teaching and have three more weeks to go.

The Loreto Secondary and Primary Schools are on 70 fenced acres. Tall palm trees and large lulu trees dot the area. The nut of the lulu tree produces oil that people use for cooking. The Secondary School is beautifully equipped. We are using three rooms for our three classes and the science lab for our computer lessons. The student-teachers are quite excited to see the wonders of the computer. This last week I was helping Brother Denis teach the large Second-Year Class of 36 how to change the font and underline…besides saving files in a folder! I found that good fun.

The Primary School has recently begun and the classes are each under a wide-spreading lulu tree. The children sit on branches that are resting on forked branches that are securely buried in the ground. Each child must balance his/her exercise book on the lap.

Behind the convent is a large enclosed space for about 15 chickens, two ducks, and five goats. I was amazed when I saw five vultures sharing the chicken’s food! The vultures seem to roost in the palm trees. On my walks around the inside of the fence I’ve often disturbed a large bevy of guinea fowl, black and white speckled birds, that very much remind me of our California quail.

Yesterday we rejoiced to celebrate the life of St. Josephine Bakhita, the Patroness of Sudan and South Sudan. Irish Spiritan John has been celebrating Eucharist with us. He shared that what keeps him going in the Minor Seminary of Rumbek Diocese is the possibility for hope that he sees in the young men he works with. For sure, I’m in awe of this possibility for hope that I also see in young men and women I’ve been teaching. Solidarity Faithful Companion of Jesus Sister Betty shared that the reading of Hosea, about being lured into the wilderness, is a reminder for us of the wilderness, the desert of suffering and of fighting that the people of Malakal Diocese have been enduring for the past six weeks. We are being called to be people of hope, that even in this suffering, God is present and wants to heal the suffering.

This morning one of our Malakal students shared with me the terrible fear he had experienced during the last eight days of December when he had gone to the UN compound to escape the shooting and killing in Malakal town. He said that his first four days there he had to stay outside the UN compound. UN Peacekeepers patrolled the perimeter of where people were staying. The rebels came near and shooting resulted in the deaths of some people near our student. He said the UN then allowed the people to enter their compound. This was better as far as security went, but then people were suffering from lack of food and little water. He said that after four days of hunger he decided he would join the SPLA where he could get food even if he had to use a gun. Fortunately, he didn’t have to join the army because he was able to be evacuated by plane to Juba. No wonder that for the first three weeks of In-Service this student was very quiet and was not doing as well as he had done in Malakal. He is suffering from trauma.

Today’s scripture readings call us to offer salt and light when we live, in the words of Archbishop Nona of Iraq, seasoned with the “strength and joy that encourages others.” We members of Solidarity with South Sudan are grateful to be able to be present with the South Sudanese as they struggle to become a nation of peace and unity. Thank you for keeping us in your prayer.

January 21, 2014: We learned today our house and college in Malakal have been looted, windows broken and the vehicle stolen but it is a set back, not a disaster.

January 10, 2014: In December I went to visit our Sisters in Kenya and to make my retreat at the Jesuit Center in Nairobi. I’m grateful I was not present for the four days of fighting in Malakal. Our three Solidarity Sisters and a Maryknoll Priest survived the shooting by lying on the toilet floor, the only room with interior walls in our whole house. They’ve now evacuated the College because the rumor is there will be another attack in Malakal.

I have returned to South Sudan and am with the rest of the Malakal staff in Rumbek, in the heart of the country where we will teach for two months. We’re staying with the Loreto Sisters who have started a Girls Secondary School. We’re praying for a ceasefire and long to return to Malakal. Please join us in prayer.

For more information, check out this article.