South Sudan – First Impressions  

Just  on  six  weeks  ago,  an  old  friend,  Allan  Drummond  from  Australia,  arrived  to  spend  an  extended  period   in  South  Sudan  assisting  our  Solidarity  mission.  After  he  was  several  weeks  in  Juba,  I  asked  him  to  make  a   familiarization  visits  to  some  of  our  ministries.  Allan  has  published  many  books  and  is  an  insightful  and   creative  author.  So  I  asked  him  to  write  about  some  of  his  first  impressions.  This  is  what  he  wrote:     My  first  impressions  of  Juba  is  that  chaos  reigns,  and  why  wouldn’t  it,  after  all  that  this  country  has  gone   through?  My  second  impression  of  the  place  is  that  Rafferty’s  Rules  apply,  and  my  third  impression  is   that  you  have  to  expect  the  unexpected  at  all  times.  The  airport  terminal,  where  first  impressions  are   formed,  is  said  to  be  the  worst  in  the  world;  the  currency  is  handed  over  in  bundles  of  one  hundred  with   an  elastic  band  around  them;  and  policemen  can  pull  you  over  and  demand  to  see  your  permit  to  carry  a   fire  extinguisher,  or  pay  a  SSP1500  (about  $6)  on  the  spot  fine  …  no  receipt  of  course,  and  no  interest  in   whether  you  have  the  fire  extinguisher  itself!     My  job  here  is  to  be  a  sort  of  mine  host,  chauffeur  and  chandler  for  the  good  ship  Solidarity  with  South   Sudan  of  which  Bill  Firman  is  currently  the  master.  But  today  I  was  called  upon  to  take  minutes  at  a   meeting  of  the  principals  of  the  four  major  projects   that   are  currently  run  by  Solidarity,  and  the   discussion  clarified  many  of  the  obstacles  that  must  be  overcome  to  make  projects  like  these  effective.   These  include  matters  like  the  universal  antipathy  to  the  use  of  cheques,  disagreements  which  individual   clergy  who  might  have  forgotten  about  a  formal  memorandum  of  agreement  on  the  status  of  Solidarity,   and  changes  of  policy  by  well-­‐meaning  international  sources  of  funds,  which  suddenly  render  a  well-­‐ planned  submission  for  funds  unacceptable  because  it  doesn’t  fit  the  new  guidelines.       Running  a  show  like  this  requires  the  patience  of  a  Job.       But  my  fourth,  and  most  lasting  impression,  is  that  the  Solidarity  thing,  at  least,  is  working.  At  some   point  later  this  year,  Solidarity  will  have  been  in  South  Sudan  for  ten  years.  That’s  not  just  ten  years.   That’s  ten  tough  years  for  this  country,  in  which  some  of  the  heroes  have  had  to  confess  to  being  of  a   common  humanity  with  the  rest  of  us,  and  have  undergone  programmes  such  as  Healing  the  Healers  to   help  them  overcome  the  effects  of  the  stress  that  they  have  experienced.  Solidarity  has  witnessed  the   murder  of  a  religious  sister/doctor  from  one  of  their  member  congregations  who  was  doing  nothing   more  nor  less  than  her  job  in  the  middle  of  the  night  when  she  was  killed.  And  there  have  been   occasional  life-­‐threatening  situations  for  Solidarity  members.     Solidarity  has  stuck  it  out  for  ten  years,  but  it  has  done  more  than  that.  It  has  built  up  viable,  constructive   programmes  in  that  time,  with  great  support  from  benefactors  all  over  the  world,  and  that  support  is   recognised  by  locals  for  what  it  is.  Why,  even  the  policeman  who  pulled  me  over  to  fine  me  SSP1500   changed  his  mind  and  said:  “Oh!  I  see  you  are  with  Solidarity.  Just  give  me  800.”   On  a  more  uplifting  note,  I  have  accompanied  two  of  the  sisters  to  a  local  dentist  who,  on  the  first   occasion,  refused  to  take  any  payment  for  his  services.  On  the  second  occasion,  my  passenger  was   armed  with  an  envelope  stuffed  with  the  local,  devalued  currency,  determined  to  press  it  upon  the  good   man.  “No!  No!  I  will  not  accept  it,”  he  said.  “You  are  beautiful  people,  coming  to  help  my  country.  I  will   not  accept  anything  from  you.”     I  have  been  fortunate  to  be  able  to  visit  some  of  the  projects  run  by  this  organisation,  and  I  take  my  hat   off  to  them,  both  for  the  quality  of  the  work  they  are  doing,  and  the  spirit  of  community  with  which  they   are  doing  it.    At  Yambio  there  is  a  teacher  training  college  with  students  gathered  from  all  over  the   country:  from  different  ethnic  groups  which  are  fighting  one  another  elsewhere,  but  living  together  in   harmony  here.  In  a  sense,  they  have  to.  They  are  stuck  with  one  another  for  two  years,  for  travel  is   currently  too  expensive  and  dangerous  for  them  to  be  able  to  go  home,  even  for  the  long  holidays.  But   the  multinational  staff  is  the  catalyst  for  something  more  than  just  putting  up  with  one  another.  I  have  a   sense  that  the  students  see  themselves  as  something  of  torch-­‐bearers  for  their  country.
It  takes  one  and  a  quarter  hours  to  drive  to  Riimenze,  though  it  is  only  thirty  kilometres.  The  golfers   among  you  will  understand  me  when  I  say  that  the  bunkering  is  superb,  demanding  clear  vision  and   planning  on  the  part  of  the  driver,  but  also  a  readiness  to  change  the  angle  of  approach  as  required.  It’s   a  bit  of  a  metaphor  for  the  whole  country  really.    About  a  hundred  metres  or  so  from  the  road,  I  saw  a   teacher  with  a  class  of  about  twelve  students,  doing  their  best  to  teach  and  to  learn  in  the  shade  of  a   mango  tree.  There  are  so  many  people  trying  to  lift  this  country  up.     Brother  Christian  took  me  for  a  walk  around  the  displaced  persons  camp  which  has  swelled  to  some  7000   people.  Christian  was  acting  as  a  truant  officer,  asking  kids  he  knew  should  have  been  at  school  why  they   were  not.  As  with  our  own  Australian  Aboriginal  children,  it  is  hard  to  establish  continuity,  though  there   is  a  steady  number  who  see  education  as  the  best  way  up.  There  is  a  Brothers  of  Christian  Instruction   school  a  few  km  away  which  has  the  advantage  of  being  a  boarding  school.  Once  kids  are  in,  they  have   to  go  along  with  it.     I  noticed,  as  we  walked  through  the  camp,  a  few  water  pumps,  mostly  installed  by  Solidarity.  I  well   remember  campaigns  some  years  ago  to  make  clean  water  available  to  villages  such  as  this,  and  I   thought  to  myself,  “There’s  something  else  that  has  worked.”       Sr  Rosa  has  been  in  Riimenze  for  ten  years  and  she  hasn’t  been  wasting  her  time!  Her  special  project  is   the  farm  which  is  a  centre  of  agricultural  training  for  farmers  in  the  surrounding  countryside.  When  I  was   there,  a  workshop  was  being  held  on  the  farm,  with  21  of  the  ‘locals’  in  attendance  …  they  sleep  in   overnight  to  save  travel  time.  It  was  being  run  by  Mathias,  a  Hamburger  who  works  with  Caritas  on  a   number  of  projects  in  South  Sudan,  but  who  obviously  has  a  soft  spot  for  this  one.  From  the  outside,  the   men  seem  to  be  very  much  engaged  but,  talking  to  Mathias  one  night,  the  real  problem  is  to  get  people   to  ‘invest’  in  a  farm  on  a  more  permanent  basis.  Land  is  generally  owned  by  the  ethnic  community,  and   not  by  individuals.  According  to  Mathias,  families  have  traditionally  been  semi  nomadic,  moving  over   large  tracts  of  land  in  a  seven  year  cycle,  and  producing  a  limited  variety  of  crops.  On  top  of  that,  there   are  practices  like  burying  the  head  of  a  family,  covering  him  with  stones  and  moving  away.  How  do  you   change  that?  Probably  by  showing  them  the  benefits/fruits  of  an  establishment  like  Rosa’s.     I  spent  a  weekend  at  Wau,  some  600km  NNW  of  Juba,  visiting  CHTI.  The  agile  minds  among  you  will   already  understand  that  to  mean  Catholic  Health  Training  Institute,  a  school  for  some  120  students  who   follow  a  three-­‐year  course  in  nursing  or  midwifery.  There  is  a  way  to  go  here  as  to  who  recognizes  what   diplomas  or  degrees.  Discussion  about  that  could,  and  does,  go  on,  but  discussion  doesn’t  do  anything  to   change  the  statistics  from  a  few  years  ago  that  a  fifteen  year  old  girl  is  more  likely  to  die  in  childbirth   than  she  is  to  complete  her  secondary  schooling.  CHTI  is  held  in  high  regard  in  this  country,  and  in  the   minds  of  international  donors  who  finance  this  and  other  projects.       There  are  plenty  of  situations  where  you  are  tempted  to  throw  your  hands  in  the  air  in  despair  of  this   country.  It’s  been  my  privilege,  however,  to  see  for  myself  the  groundwork  being  laid  for  better  things  to   come,  and  to  share  the  optimism  of  the  Solidarity  community.

Allan  has  a  lot  more  reflections  to  offer  but  I  asked  him  to  keep  this  one  brief.  We  have  twenty-­‐nine   expatriate  people  in  South  Sudan  who  comprise  Solidarity  plus  more  than  one  hundred  local  employees   plus  other  dedicated  people  assisting  in  other  countries  and  very  supportive  donor/partners.  We  thank  God   for  every  one  of  them,  including  Allan,  as  we  sail  together  on  a  voyage  of  hope  and  aspiration.

Br. Bill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CAPTCHA ImageChange Image