Solidarity with South Sudan Newsletter #3
Yesterday, in Rome, Pope Francis offered direct support to our ministry in South Sudan – to our Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio where there are 124 students from various tribes in South Sudan and Nuba mountains, living in residence and training together to become primary school teachers. The Pope also granted funds to the Comboni Sisters’ hospital in Nzara, only 20kms away from Yambio, where we seek medical attention when there are cases of serious illness. He is also supporting the Comboni Hospital in Wau where our 113 resident, Catholic Health Training Institute students undertake a large part of their clinical practice. It is a significant and most encouraging gesture of practical support by Pope Francis. One news report, published on the Radio Tamazuj web-site, described this ‘Pope in South Sudan Initiative’ in these terms:
Pope Francis has pledged to donate nearly $500,000 to support the people suffering from worsening conditions in South Sudan. Speaking at a press conference in the Vatican on Wednesday, Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Office for Integral Human Development, said Pope Francis will be aiding projects in the areas of education, healthcare, and agriculture, called the “Pope for South Sudan” Initiative.
“Because he is unable to travel to South Sudan in person, Pope Francis “wanted to express the tangible presence and closeness of the Church with the afflicted people,” Cardinal Turkson said.
“It is an initiative that is to foster, support and encourage the work of the various religious congregations and international aid organizations that are present on the territory and tirelessly work to help the population and to promote the process of development and peace,” he added.
The project of the Pope’s aid includes support for Wau and Nzara Hospitals and an agricultural project run by Caritas to provide livelihoods for 2.500 families in the dioceses of Yei, Yambio and Torit.
The initiative will also help support Solidarity organization which is working to train teachers, nurses, midwives, local farmers, and community leaders.
Last month, Pope Francis postponed a planned visit to South Sudan this year but the Vatican said he is more determined than ever to raise awareness about the need to support the people of South Sudan.
The tangible support of the Church and the suffering people of South Sudan, and the encouragement of the missionary efforts of people from many diverse nations, is very much appreciated. Increasingly, the role the Church can play in reconciliation, healing and peace-making is being recognized. We must rediscover a ‘grass roots’ unity in South Sudan: we can start by building united local communities.
The top U.N. peacekeeper in the country, David Shearer from New Zealand has commented that South Sudan’s civil war has mutated from a two-way fight between the president and his ousted former deputy, Riek Machar, to a fragmented conflict, making it harder to put it back together and peace more elusive,
“The situation now is somewhat different to what it was a year ago, when it was largely bipolar,” Shearer said. ‘We are seeing a lot more of the conflict being played out at a very local level and that is worrying because as it fractures it becomes more difficult to try to put the pieces back together again.’
Pope Francis is encouraging us all to heal the fractures and help create a lasting peace.
– Br Bill Firman, FSC, Executive Director of Solidarity with South Sudan, June 21, 2017
Solidarity moving forward
The Solidarity Teacher Training College (STTC) and the Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI) are teaching with a full complement of students and staff inspite of the violence that is present in the Yambio and Wau areas. The STTC was the only TTC in the country to graduate new teachers at the end of 2016. Over half of all registered nurses in the country have been trained at the CHTI. This is do to support from you, our friends, and the commitment of the 28 priests, brothers and sisters from 17 congregations and 14 countries who are a courageous presence in the country.
The Agricultural Training Project continues to assist local farmers with sustainable methods. Planting and preparing the soil is taking place as the rainy season is now. All the while, the Solidarity team accompanies the nearly 6000 people, mostly the elderly, children and those with special needs, who are encamped in the parish hoping for an end to violent clashes among armed groups in the area. International organizations have finally come with food supplies for the lean months before the harvest.
The Pastoral Team is conducting training workshops and trauma healing training sessions at the Good Shepherd Peace Center in Kit. When it is safe to travel, training takes place in the various dioceses and UN Protection of Civilian Camps.
The “Other Syria”
The People of South Sudan Need Your Help NOW!
The people of Riimenze near Yambio in South Sudan had a violent start to the New Year. On New Year’s Day the army began an offensive against the “rebels” and began burning homes of people in the area. Two local staff of the Solidarity Agricultural Training Project were burned alive in their homes. Their bodies were taken immediately to the local cemetery for burial. The local people are traumatized by all that is happening and are bringing their possessions to the parish grounds. There is no one left in the village and stories of more burned houses and violent deaths are many.
Solidarity with South Sudan has two staff persons, Srs. Rosa from Vietnam and Josephine from Kenya who are present with the people and sharing produce from the farm with the nearly 2500 people, mostly women and children, gathered in the parish. The Solidarity Agricultural project, managed by Sr. Rosa, is focused on training local farmers, many of whom have been displaced in an earlier civil war. Sr Josephine works with the women and the pre-school on the parish grounds. Gradually a community is coming into being.
The greatest challenge at the moment is to supply food, medicine and clean water for this growing crowd of refugees. Solidarity had planned over the next six months to raise funds for a deeper borehole with an above ground tank to serve the Riimenze community. The current borehole is no longer functioning. However, the need is now. If you would like to support this effort to alleviate the suffering of the refugees, please donate on our website here.
We so appreciate your support and prayers for peace in South Sudan.
TRAUMA WORKSHOPS UNDERWAY IN SOUTH SUDAN
(Editor’ note: Father Ken’s Vineyard wired US$5,000 in January, 2016, to Fr. Abraham for use to set up and conduct trauma workshops primarily for aid workers, teachers and other religious in South Sudan. Workshops taking place in Nzara, Western Equatoria state, South Sudan. Yambio is the capital of Western Equatoria.)
March 16, 2016
(email from Fr. Ken)
My brother Abraham,
I can’t imagine how difficult it is to have a workshop for those working with trauma victi ms while surrounded by constant trauma. WOW!
I will be in Kampala from April 4 -7 in case you’re around. Thanks so much for this information.
Your brother abuna, Ken
(email from Fr. Abraham to Fr. Ken on March 16, 2016)
Dear Fr. Ken,
I am now in Yambio after several weeks in Kampala, I delayed a bit because the convoy to reach Yambio didn’t start.
The priests are too busy now (with Easter preparations) to hold a workshop so we are going to do it for them after Easter and because Fr. Paul Boyle (facilitator) could not be able to come at this time.
Instead we have started it with the teachers and we have done a three day workshop for the teachers even though the food that I bought in Uganda did not yet arrive. Possibly it will arrive this week through a convoy.
As I requested for the priests, religious and teachers of our church schools, we have started right away.
Next week I will send you some pictures of what we are doing. As for money for the school in Tombura. Don’t worry, send the money and it will reach the school.
God bless, Abraham
MORE FROM SOUTH SUDAN – MESSAGE FROM FATHER JOHN
The below email is from Father John Ngbapia.
He is the Rector of the seminary in Yambio, South Sudan, as well as the vocation director and pastor of a parish in Yambio with many outstations. Recently, Yambio has been under siege with two tribal chiefs battling over oil profits and the process of tribal negotiations. His message is exactly as it came to me.
February 27, 2016
My beloved friend Ken
I am extremely happy to read from you. You ended your email by saying “God Bless you”. I have surely felt blessed after your wish.
I have longed to see you for a very long time. I will definitely try my very best to visit Uganda and meet you for even a day or two. I have already initiated process of booking and getting a flight to Kampala to meet Ken, my one & only brother & friend who really does care.
In the meantime my petition and request continues that you shouldn’t forget me with my challenges of feeding and medicating sick seminarians, provision of academic requirements for them and also the challenge of meeting the daily administrative costs. In you, my friend Ken, I trust and am aware that you can never let me down.
The good news now for our seminary is that Rome has recognized it as a suitable place for the formation of future priests. As you know, we just sent 15 students to Kenya to finally sit for the Urban exams there by May 2016 and possibly enter theology in Uganda by September 2016.
Looking forward to meeting you as I pray for you often; that God may help you with ever growing strength, and Bless you too for your BIG heart of love for us all. I always feel the warmth of your love, care and concerns!
Your brother & friend
Diary of Father Ignatius (“Igo”) to Father Ken Deasy
Exactly as sent by Father Igo (items in parentheses are editor’s explanations).
January 24, 2016
Dear Father Ken and your fellow caretakers of Christ’s Vineyard assigned you,
Thanks to your immediate reply to my email; it brings me much consolation and relief too. In most parts of Africa life is not easy, and we had some tough experiences in Congo during our trip to Uganda. Yet, I am convinced that where there is a will, there is a way. I prayed for it and God helped us to make it through.
Father, your support to us actually saved us from great trouble. Sincerely, it was our plan to rest these days prior to the start of studies by the girls. As usual, schools open in Uganda by mid January, an exception is this year for reasons of elections. The Government of Uganda has decreed on the education calendar that schools should open by 22nd February 2016 – this is to my surprise. Now, I have to feed the girls until 22nd February 2016 before they are in boarding schools. Food has to be prepared in a pot in our most humble hut. It is our home and a job to establish some stability but no longer a long tenuous, exhausting journey.
I love the encouraging words that you have provided for my enrichment and have built for my wisdom – thank you so much!
My journey from my ministry in Yambio, South Sudan, to Kampala, Uganda through the difficult Congo, came as a result of the witness I bore of how the poor people of God in my community not only need the word of God for their souls but also the means for their bodily survival. My desire is to help the poor community of Yabua, Yambio and the surrounding areas to develop skills for their well-being. A sound mind in a sound body! I have proof that it is not easy to stop a hungry, angry person. Instead of shouting for change, let me strive for a change with action.
January 22, 2016
Since this morning today, Yambio town has been on fire, gunshots from side of the town and a number of people killed inclusive of prominent Government Officer. Since August 2015 to this date, there are series of intense security threats and many lives being lost.
I am particularly afraid of this scenario, revenge and clearing of an enemy is an easy job and no justice follows. A State Speaker is murdered and no mention of a culprit or identity of who did it or mentioned. My mother has left her house again today for a far and distance house of a friend for safety; all our stock of food stuff left in the house at high risk of theft.
You will do well to remember what I did mention sometime back that this scenario will continue to repeat itself. Today, take it from me that there is nothing like education this year in Western Equatorial Yambio. War will characterize life style, hit and run style, killing of enemies, and suspects. This is not an environment to live in at the moment. I do not know what will become of the seeds we have planted in our gardens.
I bought another garden for coffee plantation where seedlings are being worked upon. Our existing plot in Ikpiro is inaccessible because of lack of security. I hired two men to raise nursery beds for the coffee and while in Kampala I have bought polythene bags for raising coffee seedlings in the secondary nursery bed.
We were waiting for the Mach-April 2016 to plat our seeds sent recently. What becomes of our place?
(Later in the day)
Greetings to you from Kampala, Uganda. I managed to travel from the troubled township of Yambio through Congo and on to Kampala, Uganda. I am here with the girls who are being assisted by Sr. Deborah and Sr. Theresa. The Sisters are gathering support for the education of these two girls. The girls will soon be enrolled into secondary school for their studies.
At the moment, Yambio remains unsafe and the future for a peaceful living is very dim.
I want to help care for these girls, our living is a challenge in this beginning. Any prayers and monetary assistance will really help us. We know that God’s care always is timely and for our needs.
January 19, 2016
We arrived back to Yambio (South Sudan) on Saturday evening; surely our trip was very good with unexpected experiences. The road was not so bad. We were not stopped by Arrow boys on our way to Tombura but on our return, we were stopped twice. At the first stage, we were asked for a “contribution” – this is what the Arrow boys termed it. They said that they are in the bush to demand for our rights and so we should contribute – I gave them some 50 SSP (South Sudanese Pound) in all, nobody other person gave money. We were 11 on board! We were allowed to continue, we cracked jokes with them, the Arrow boys, and continued.
The second team were a little rougher than the first group and this group demanded to be given lift to the opposite direction. Our driver could have done the job but was only saved by lack of adequate fuel in the Tank. When they saw for themselves that there was not enough fuel in the Tank, they allowed us to continue. They needed nothing more except the ride. Now approaching the Town of Yambio, we met the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) soldiers, who were rather tough and conducted a thorough check up. Finally, we got back to Yambio, safe and sound.
I am truly safe but saddened by the trauma of the township of Yambio, with Ikpiro much affected. Ikpiro is deserted, not many people live there now for fear of their lives. The Government Soldiers go on to kill innocent civilians at night – a practice that started since August 2015 and is still on. Everybody is afraid from the Soldiers. The Arrow boys during the fight did not loot properties, did not burn houses and did not rape girls. These named evils have been committed by our own government soldiers – some of these soldiers have been arrested, we wait to see if justice will be administered. Civilians are said to have lost lives about 13 confirmed, dead not at the cross fire but a deliberate killing by the soldiers. How many soldiers were killed, we do not know – but truly, many soldiers have been killed. No Arrow Boy is mentioned dead.