Letters from Brother Bill


145. Against the Odds

Peace has not come to South Sudan but neither has war escalated. There are some reports of fighting in remote areas and many people are still displaced from their homes but for the majority of the people, life goes on, albeit with customary hardship. Two days ago the Minister of Defense was reported as follows:

Kuol Manyang Juuk, a member of South Sudan's ruling party and the Minister of Defense, says that the people are tired of war and there is “no reason” to keep fighting just for power and position...This war – the people of South Sudan are tired of it,” he said in an extensive interview with Radio Tamazuj today.

I think many would agree with him but it has become obvious that once a war starts, it is hard to stop. War brings the opportunity to loot, vandalize and destroy. Yes, wars can create heroes but more frequently wars bring out the worst in human nature. The common brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity is forgotten and that opposing soldier is no longer human, just a problem to be eliminated. Eventually, however, too many people become affected by deaths among their extended families creating war widows and fatherless homes. People are tired of war – on both sides of the conflict. But there is another side to this situation where, against the odds, notable achievement is happening.

Recently, I attended the graduation of fifteen men and two women who completed the fourth and final year of their in-service teacher training programme in Rumbek. Our three Solidarity tutors were short-term volunteers who came from Australia. The third year student teachers delivered  their message very clearly to me: ‘Please give us the same tutors next year.’ It was a very affirming occasion. Especially for the team leader, Henry Corcoran who had taught these same students in Years One and Two, it was a real success story. There is no doubt the teachers remember and appreciate those who accompany them over a longer time frame. There develops a sense of belonging and acceptance: ‘ You really are here with us.’

Of course, there were many speeches, as is the way in South Sudan. When one of the speakers asked who comes from Rumbek, Mapourdit, Cueibet and so on, I was surprised to see that the two principal Dinka tribes in that state – traditional enemies - were both strongly represented. In fact, one reads, almost every week of killing in the Rumbek area, one tribal group against the other, mostly payback over cattle; but in this class the members of the two tribes were not enemies. They are genuine friends. Far more than the academic and professional development aspects of their training, the programme has been an on–going forum for peace and reconciliation. We are here to work patiently against the odds!

I was also in Rumbek for the meeting of the board of Loreto Secondary Girls’ Boarding School. Loreto has grown quickly to be a school of 184 girls coming from many parts of South Sudan including girls from the two opposing Dinka tribes. The girls live and learn together very peacefully. Along with gaining the top exam results in South Sudan, the girls attain a poise and gracious self-confidence in meeting people - the emerging new generation of young women focused on building a more peaceful and prosperous South Sudan. The girls have developed a peace path through some of the bush areas of the school property. On the First Friday of Lent, I joined them and the Loreto Sisters for the Stations of the Cross along this path. The only sad side to the Loreto story is the large number of young girls now applying who are unable to gain a place. In a very short time, the parents have come to recognize the value of a quality education. Yes there is often shooting within earshot and occasional killings only a few kilometres way from the school; but the school is seen as a sanctuary, somehow off limits to the traditional disputes. Against the odds, it has become a beacon bringing future hope to this nation.

Our pre-service teacher training has begun again in Yambio with 107 students from all parts of South Sudan and Nuba Mountains. There are another 91 residential students studying to be nurses or midwives at our Health Training Institute in Wau (including two Loreto graduates). These are also situations where traditional divisions and rivalries are being overcome, new friendships formed and a more united and peaceful future for South Sudan is in genesis. Against the odds, these educational institutions and programmes are building  a future for this new country. Thank you to all who are prepared to improve the odds of that happening by their gift of time, talents or financial support.

- Br Bill

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