Go back a few centuries or even, in some cases, a few decades. Italy was not a united country but independent and warring states; America had a civil war in which negro enslavement was a significant issue; France had a bloody revolution pitting the people against the aristocracy; South Africa was governed with apartheid divisions; peace between Protestant and Catholic in Northern Ireland seemed an unattainable goal; and so the list goes on. South Sudan is the world’s newest nation, one of the least educated with the poorest health services and lowest standards of living. It has endured years of conflict and division; but there is hope. Other countries have been forged out of tangled conflicts and ethnic divisions. Why not South Sudan? Hope will spring from the next generation of citizens whom we must ensure are better educated.
At present, I am visiting our Solidarity Teacher Training (STTC) in Yambio, South Sudan. This place really is a good news story! The 111 students are studying to be primary school teachers. They begin the day with a joyful gathering to pray for peace. There is a real mix of ethnicity. There are students from 14 different ethnic groups. The tutors are also from different countries and congregations. There are two Irish Sisters, members of different congregations, and likewise two from the USA. There is also a male, lay volunteer from the USA. There are three Brothers from three different congregations – one each from Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda. The Principal, is from New Zealand. Another Sister, from yet another congregation, is from India. I am visiting – from a fourth, different congregation of Brothers and, yes, from yet another country, Australia. Can there be unity with such diversity?
Edmund Burke once wrote: ‘Example is the school of mankind and they will learn at no other?’ So what are the student teachers here learning? Here are some of the comments from members of the class that will graduate at the end of this year. I believe our STTC is creating really good news.
‘ I would be grateful to work at STTC Yambio because I like the way Solidarity people live with one another – in peace as brothers and sisters’
‘I have gained knowledge and skills on how to handle children myself as teacher. I have also gained confidence in myself in whatever thing I am doing’
I have learned how to keep peace within the community we are living in, seeing the example from the staff of Solidarity. All the time they are happy and love all the students.’
‘It is all about people. My most valuable experiences weren’t academic. They were all about people – social skills, respect, self-worth and empathy’.
Yes, it is all about the people, many of whom have suffered so much in their country. The people must come to view themselves as South Sudanese together rather than as ethnic rivals or competitors. Other students from the class soon to graduate wrote:
‘My country is a war-torn country and people think there is no hope for the country but when I came to Solidarity, I came to know people from many tribes and nationalities and we lived in peace and harmony. That is one of the greatest achievement I have got from Solidarity. I have learned the different approaches to teaching and the qualities of a good teacher.’
‘All people in Solidarity always live together in peace and harmony, loving people and agents of change. That is why I want to join Solidarity, to be the agent of change in the country.’
Our STTC graduates will be agents of change for the better. The living example of Solidarity tutors, not only their delivery of knowledge and skills, is bringing good news to South Sudan.
– Br Bill