In 2008, the Sudanese Bishops’ Conference sent out a request for help. Both the Union of Superiors General (usg) and the International Union of Superiors General (uisg), representing men and women religious, responded immediately with the creation of Solidarity with South Sudan. Sr Margaret Scott, a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, tells her story regarding her personal participation in this inter-congregational mission, and shares what Pope Francis’ visit means for the people of South Sudan.
‘Solidarity with South Sudan’ is born
I was participating in meetings in Rome in 2006/7 when the first usg / uisg delegations shared what they had seen and experienced in Southern Sudan. Our congregation decided to get involved and I was asked if I would like to do that. I went to South Sudan in August 2008 with four other sisters — we had a community of five Our Lady of the Mission Sisters living together in Riimenze, in Tombura-Yambio Diocese. Solidarity planned to set up teacher training colleges in Malakal and Riimenze and a health training institute in Wau, and to train pastoral agents.
Setting up the teacher training college
Two of us were asked to work with the teacher training in Yambio Diocese itself. Initially we began offering in-service training. Around 2011, the community started to develop with members of other congregations. We ended up moving to the main town, Yambio, and a college was built on Church land. In 2012, we began pre-service training in this purpose-built College. Our main aim was to train primary school teachers because that was the huge need at that time.
South Sudan becomes a nation
There was great excitement among the people when South Sudan gained independence in 2011. They thought that would solve all problems — they would be independent, and could run the country for themselves. People were full of hope and enthusiasm; but over the years, we’ve seen huge difficulties. In some ways there’s a bit of disappointment that things didn’t go as well as expected. In many ways it was natural. There are all sorts of elements that came into play within the country as they began to work together as an independent country.
Education vital to new country
Most people saw that if there was going to be any development, a good education system needed to be in place. At that time, there were very few trained teachers due to a lack of teacher training colleges. Those that existed were not operational due to lack of funding. We were one little piece contributing to building up that puzzle to provide trained teachers. Across the country, there was a desire for learning, for education, and to have teachers trained so they could teach future generations.
From the very beginning we found that many of the teachers in the schools who hadn’t been trained had a great desire to be educated. So, we worked in two modes: in-service and pre-service. Students we had at the college who had no prior training ranged from their mid-20s through to sometimes 50. They were enthusiastic and eager to learn. When they graduated, they were eager to go back to their schools, or to get into the system and be teachers, because they wanted something better for the young ones. The positivity was amazing even though they worked under extremely poor conditions. Even today you find people teaching under trees. But they want to teach.
Teacher training program bears fruit
The people we taught enthusiastically went places and undertook to be teachers. They would prepare their work and make posters and charts and all sorts of games — and they delivered something really worthwhile. Anyone we had trained was often snapped up by the government to work in education departments. While supervising our students in schools I witnessed the children’s participation and excitement and energy because they had teachers they could rely on. You could see endless possibilities of progress for the future. So, it was really, really helpful for the country.
Three church leaders visiting South Sudan
The Pope, Archbishop Welby, and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church feel compassion for the people of South Sudan and want to show their solidarity with them, to stand with them. Their visit is an incredible symbol of support. Those people and Churches who have been praying for peace are hopeful for peace in this fledgling, struggling country. These three leaders from different Churches are showing that it is possible for people to come together. And if it’s possible for Churches to come together, it’s possible for people to come together to develop a country. It is a hugely symbolic gesture, and I think the people really appreciate them coming.
People of incredible faith
The people of South Sudan have an incredible faith. They believe in God; they know God loves them, and the Pope’s visit is another way of experiencing that. We don’t often hear about how difficult it is in South Sudan and the fact that millions of people are at risk of starvation at the moment. For this period of time the focus will be on the Democratic Republic of Congo and on South Sudan. I hope that will raise awareness for the millions of people in South Sudan who are suffering and need the support of the world to help them move peacefully and productively into the future.
By Sr Margaret Scott, rndm with Sr Bernadette Reis, fsp