In 2006, The Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference expressed great concern about the enormous lack of education and health care in South Sudan. They issued an invitation to the two Unions of Superiors General to respond to this need. Subsequently, a delegation from UISG and USG was sent to South Sudan and confirmed the urgency of the situation as highlighted by the Bishops. In 2008, Solidarity with South Sudan was founded. 200 Religious Congregations came together to collaborate and jointly work together in response to the enormous needs of South Sudan. This collaborative effort heralded a special and new paradigm of religious life.
Fr Jim Greene MAfr is now the Executive Director of Solidarity with South Sudan. He kindly answers our questions and offers us his personal testimony about the reality of the country and the current needs of the project.
Could you tell us, please, about the current reality of South Sudan?
2020 so far is a tough year for everyone, but it has been particularly tough in South Sudan. The country struggles to face the reality of COVID 19, with a health system that is at best basic, and overstretched. The official statistics state that the virus is hardly present in the country. However, with little testing, no one knows the true extent of the spread and impact of Covid 19 on the population. This is complicated by a weak political system and a fragile economy. The enforced lock down of businesses and trading, means that ordinary people have great difficulty finding their ‘daily bread’ for themselves and their families.
The various parties in the unity government have returned to political brinkmanship, which means an inability to offer basic services, maintain security, or uphold justice in the country. Therefore, it is not surprising that inter-ethnic violence has erupted in many parts, as people are taking law and order and security into their own hands.
While the situation is very precarious, thankfully the members of Solidarity with South Sudan have so far escaped the worst aspects of this instability.
How many religious are currently active in Sudan, since Solidarity with South Sudan was founded in 2008?
In the central administration, we are 20 religious, and one lay member, working in four projects. This comprises 6 men and 14 women, who come from all five continents and from 14 different religious congregations. This ‘mix’ of different spiritual backgrounds, together with the unique gifts and specializations of the members could be described as a type of ‘magic’. They blend together in shared religious communities, supporting each other in service of the neediest in South Sudan. This is surely a prophetic witness to an emergence of a new paradigm of religious life.
Since 2008, Solidarity sees its mission mainly in the areas of training and education of nurses, midwives, teachers, farmers and pastoral workers. We take people from every diocese in the country as well as from the Nuba Mountains and Abyei. We believe that by forming people to serve others, we are not only helping them, but also, through them, helping others. This helps individuals and supports the building up of capacity in this newest African state. While we strive to give an excellent technical education, our primary aim in everything is to inculcate values of mutual tolerance, respect and reconciliation. So far, our efforts have been praised by government ministers, hospitals, schools and Church leaders.
20 religious and one lay member… from 14 different religious congregations. This ‘mix’ of different spiritual backgrounds, together with the unique gifts and specializations of the members could be described as a type of ‘magic’.
What is your personal experience as member of this prophetic project?
Personally, I joined Solidarity in early 2019, and have been lucky to visit all our projects many times. One of my favourite activities is to attend graduation ceremonies! Not only are these happy occasions for me, I also get a real sense of the journeys travelled by many young South Sudanese people. I meet young women and men who, against all the cultural odds, have undergone intensive training to become teachers and nurses. A good example of this is the women, who are often wives and mothers, returning home to see their husbands and children for the first time in 2 or 3 years after completion of their studies. They proudly do so with a government approved certificate in their hands. This speaks volumes about the contribution that Solidarity is making to them and to their communities, and to the value young South Sudanese people place on education. To be able to help people do this is a great privilege.
Another example comes from one of our members, who recently visited a very remote diocesan mission post near the Ethiopian border, where there is a small medical clinic. The one nurse employed there had graduated four years previously from our training facility. She spoke of her happiness in being in a remote place and being able to help people get better. In the previous week, she had assisted a woman with a difficult birth, that otherwise might have ended tragically. Stories like these help us to see that while technical training is important, it is just as vital to impart values of service and care for others. This goes to the heart of Solidarity’s mission.
Recently you sent an urgent appeal to all the General Councils on behalf of the Board of Solidarity with South Sudan. What are the most important challenges for this project right now?
The pandemic has hit us badly this year especially on the financial front. Some of our donors are refocusing their resources on needs closer to home. This has left us with a significant funding gap. Solidarity recently made a special appeal for financial help to religious congregations and we were very happy with the generous response that we received. However, we still appeal for more funds as we are short on our budget. With the closing of our institutes in March 2020, and now the planned reopening of them, we have incurred significant additional financial costs. The vast majority of our students need to take one or two plane rides to arrive in our institutes, because of the insecurity of travelling by road. We need to have lots of extra health and safety provisions to help them live and study in secure environments. All this takes additional funds.
However, our biggest challenge is in the area of personnel. We are currently short of 5 to 6 people to work in various key posts, be that as administrators, agronomists or health professionals, teacher trainers or pastoral formators. For the first time in the history of Solidarity we are thinking of closing down projects. This is not because of insecurity but because we do not have personnel to guarantee their continuance. We are the child of USG/UISG, and we need the assistance of many congregations to find suitable personnel for our projects. Every effort is being made to train local personnel, but that takes time. At this stage in our development, we are still in need to committed and qualified religious personnel to give shape to, and help our projects to grow strong before they are handed over to other forms of church ownership.
Please take this heartfelt plea seriously. The COVID pandemic has caused us all to look towards the care of our own personnel and the difficulties in moving around. Let it also now lead us to take care of part of the Lord’s vineyard, where the soil is fertile but where there is need for more labourers.
If you would like to make a donation, please contact the Solidarity with South Sudan Office Manager in Rome, Claudia Nicolò: email@example.com
If you would like to contribute with personnel, please contact Fr. Jim Greene: firstname.lastname@example.org