A common expression in English, but not always true, is that ‘No new is good news’. There has been very little said in the media recently about South Sudan. So does that mean peace has been restored in South Sudan and the crisis that has led to countless deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands is over? Unfortunately, no. There has been less fighting but even during the long years of war against the north, the wet season brought about a lull in the fighting. Every year almost seventy per cent of the roads in South Sudan become impassable and armies simply cannot move around. The outbreak of serious conflicts in several other nations has also helped push South Sudan out of the media focus.
A September 2014 UN situation report on the South Sudan crisis states that 451,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries while 1.3 million have been internally displaced by violence. Joseph Stalin once remarked cynically, but most perceptively: ‘One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.’ It is easy to read the huge numbers and forget the incredible impact on the life of each individual. Many South Sudanese now lament the deaths of their loved ones and the lost opportunities. It has been a senseless and heartless conflict. There are some signs of hope in the drawn out negotiations between the key protagonists but a long period of healing will be needed.
While it is a continuing tragedy in Malakal, Bor, Bentieu, Leer and the other towns or areas ravaged by fighting, life continues remarkably normally in other regions. So it is that in Juba, Yambo, Riimenze and Wau where we have communities, our pastoral programmes, teacher education, health training and agricultural projects are thriving. Students continue to graduate as registered nurses, teachers and midwives. In the pastoral area, a new focus has been on responding to the humanitarian needs stemming from this crisis, especially in supporting the displaced priests and religious of the Malakal Diocese to be able to return to their ministries.
Sadly, there is no prospect of re-establishing teacher training in Malakal in the near future. It is largely a deserted town, rapidly being overgrown with long grass and bush and almost totally devoid of traders offering supplies. Refurbishing Malakal will only be possible when an enduring peace is established. Some Malakal people are continuing their teacher training studies in our College in Yambio. We are trying to stand by the local people who have begun programmes with us and to create opportunities for them to complete what they have begun. We bring together many people from the different tribal groups from most parts of South Sudan and guide them in living and learning harmoniously together. The broad goal of Solidarity is not only to impart knowledge but to build understanding and respect that is essential in achieving a lasting peace.