I am now in my tenth year in South Sudan. Five of our Solidarity members have been here longer – three RNDM Sisters (Religieuses De Notre Dame des Mission), one SSND Sister (School Sisters of Notre Dame) and one FCJ Sister (Faithful Companions of Jesus). Many others have come and gone and all have made significant contributions. We have lived together in communities of great diversity, priests, brothers, sisters and lay persons from many different congregations and of many different nationalities, men and women with strong Christian convictions and a common desire to accompany the people of South Sudan from poverty to prosperity. There is still a long way to go but each step along the way has been significant.
The initiative of having congregations live and share ministry together has worked very well indeed. At various times, I have found myself as the only man is an otherwise female community, in a community of mostly men and in communities where numbers of men and women are more equal. It does not seem to matter much – all situations were quite natural and productive for our mutual ministry. Although we were each trained in the specific traditions of our various Institutes, our common values far outweigh any differences. It requires some adaptability but no more than what many people face when they move locations and change jobs. My verdict – an enriching experience.
I read this recent description of South Sudan:
‘ There is total breakdown of law and order In most parts of the country, insecurity is rampant …, more than half of the country’s population is food insecure…. provision of basic social services is at a bare minimum, the economy has collapsed for all practical purposes. All indications are that the situation will only get worse.’
Yes, there are problems with law and order, many people are hungry and the economy is a mess; but we are not in a dire, fearful situation living and working in South Sudan. Maybe this is not a good place for pessimists. In many respects, life is quite normal and secure. Yesterday, city power was restored to our house – a luxury we last enjoyed in July, 2014. I am increasingly hearing optimistic comments from people about the prospects for a lasting peace. What is a major concern for me is that the peace negotiations are more focused on power sharing between rival individuals and factions than n seriously addressing the underlying issues. Under the recent peace agreement, there will be five Vice-Presidents and the number of members of parliament will increase by another 150 taking the total number to near 600.
When the country went from ten states to thirty-two, there was no prior, public consideration about how does one pay for 32 Governors, 32 State Houses, 32 Ministers of each of Health, Education, Infrastructure and so on. The country had infrastructure for ten states. If one is serious about solving economic issues, reverting to a maximum of ten states is an obvious first step. If one is serious about reconciliation, there needs to be clear and just mechanisms for solving disputes. If any of the displaced people in the Protection of Civilian Camps try to return their home and find it already occupied by persons from another tribe, what mechanism will be in place for just recognition of ownership? It is fact that during the years of fighting some tribes used their position of strength to occupy the traditional lands of other less powerful tribes. Land ownership is a huge issue.
Peace is not simply a matter of laying aside weapons and ceasing to kill others. A strong system of justice, adequate law enforcement and reduced graft and corruption are essential if the country is become more unified and productive. The four major focal points of Solidarity with South Sudan are critically important: training teachers so that better education is available; training nurses and midwives for better health care; training pastoral agents for better social services, including healing from trauma and training agriculturalists for better farming. Very little government resources have gone into this. Fortunately, with the generous support of donor/partners over the past ten years, Solidarity has significantly improved the services available to the people of South Sudan. The united efforts of the participating congregations and lay persons have had a great impact. We are one group, among many, making a difference but the connections we have made with the people are greater than most. The effort of the past ten years has been well worthwhile.
– Br Bill