It’s time to build a school!

Its been a while….

But South Sudan has never been far from my thoughts. I keep in contact with my friends there and I try to do what I can from a distance. Sometimes South Sudan feels very close, sometimes like I don’t know it at all.

Fr. Tim is still, of course, a huge part of my life and he agreed to marry me to Stuart in the pouring rain on Our Lady of the Rocks in Montenegro in 2018. Of course, our wedding was special but the fact that it was celebrated by someone who means so much to me was truly wonderful.

Those of you who followed my first two adventures in South Sudan and who supported me with lovely emails and messages while I was there and almost more importantly, messages of encouragement when I returned to London know what we have already achieved. 

In 2013, I left Narus in South Sudan having taught maths in St. Bakhita Primary School.  A few weeks after I left, the war broke out and parents sent their children to the school in the hope that they would be safe from the fighting that would come. The people in this part of South Sudan have lived through decades of war but it is an unwritten rule, seldom broken, that the two schools, St. Bakhita and St. Daniel Comboni are safe havens for the children.

Children arrived in such numbers that the UN provided temporary shelters almost 100 young girls lived in these canvas structures. It was an acceptable solution for the very short term but the children were not safe. When Fr. Tim told me in January 2014, I asked my friends to rally….and rally you did. A new dormitory was constructed in the following months and it is now home to 75 girls who attend St. Bakhita Primary School. They are safe, they have access to food and education. A job well done I would say.

In 2015, I returned to South Sudan but this time to Riwoto where Fr. Tim had been asked to continue the work on the primary school there. Kapoeta was a centre of fighting during the war as it is a garrison town and Riwoto is a satellite village of Kapoeta on the other side of the dry bed of the Singaita river. This time, my trip was very different. The hope that I had experienced in 2013, hope that peace and autonomy brings was gone. People were once again dealing with the awful consequences of war; the currency was practically worthless, the crops had failed and people were hungry.

I taught in the primary school which was still in its foundation years. At that time, there were only 4 classes. 5 years later, there is a full primary school programme and an over-subscribed kindergarten school.

So, it’s time for me to call on my friends again. 

Fr. Tim has just launched a local campaign in Kerry to raise funds to build the secondary school and I’d like you to help. There’s nothing in it for you…you will probably never take the 3-day journey to visit the school, if a building is named in your honour you will probably never see it. It’s unlikely you will ever meet any of the children who benefit. 

But what I can tell you is that this work is needed. It is needed in this place because these people have nothing more than education. I have seen first-hand, and shared my stories, about how education offers some prospects to the children, how my students from St. Bakhita have already gone on to study nursing and teaching, how they have returned to South Sudan to do their part.

Yeats said that education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. I’ve written about the fire I saw in the girls of St. Bakhita in Narus and in St. Mary Magdalen in Riwoto and how proud I was to do my small part to tend to that fire. Having the opportunity to participate in the education of these children was singularly the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me. And I do not underestimate the impact it had…. on them and on me.

I know it has been a rubbish year for so many. 2020 did not turn out as any of us thought it would but wouldn’t it pretty awesome, if by the end of 2020 we had secured the funds to do this good thing in a place you’ll never go to for people you will never meet. This is how I’m choosing to close out 2020…with something good.

So, you know the drill…click the link below and have your debit card ready xxx

Click here for the GoFundMe site

Here’s a video from Tim describing Riwoto and the work that he does…enjoy….

“Just twelve deaths”

One evening while I was still in Narus. I went walking with Fr. Emmanuel and Fr. Tommy Gilooley. We walked further from the village than I had been before and I was surprised to learn that about 30 minutes walk from St. Bakhita Girls Primary School, there was another school that I had not heard of before. It was in a place called Nachepo.

I knew that people lived in that direction. I often met the women dressed in the traditional dress with charcoal or wood on their heads walking towards Narus to trade in the market there. They carried jerry cans full of milk on their return the jerrycans were full of aragi.

We came to a school seemingly in the middle of no where. The fences were broken down, the roof was damaged, there was no one to be seen and it looked as though there hadn’t been anyone here for a long time. The cement floors of the classrooms had cracked and in places turned to dust. There were very few benches and the unlocked classrooms were occupied only by hornets and termites. 

It felt as though nature was claiming that piece of land back for itself.

I asked if children still came here. The answer came….”they come when there is food”.

This wasn’t an unusual response. I know that food is a large part of the reason parents send their children to school here. The rations provided by the school, sometimes with the help of the World Food Programme, are a huge part of the reason that children are sent to school here. It is not unusual that the only food a child will eat is the food provided in the school.

But what I can’t say is why on that day and in that place, I was so struck and so upset by the answer. The people here are hungry. I will say that the suffering here is nothing when compared to what is happening further north in the areas worst hit by the war.

The Sudan Tribune reported yesterday that there had been a sort of mini-famine in a town a short distance from here. Just twelve deaths were attributed to hunger.

“Just twelve deaths”…lets just let that sink in for a second.

If twelve people died of hunger in my home town of Abbeyfeale in Co. Limerick or in even in London where I live, what would happen? People would care, right? There would be public outcry and an investigation into how our society could have let this happen.

So why is it that here, in a country that has been ravaged by war for decades, there is no outcry? And not just here, but in so many other places across the globe. 

Have we too become sensitised to hardship and suffering? We watch the news every evening and we hear about refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, civilians being executed for practising their faiths, war breaking out here, violent clashes there. I’ve grown up through the 80s and 90s with talk of the famines in Kenya, Darfur and Ethopia. Band Aid made us all aware. We were outraged. Where is the outrage now?

During this trip, I have been deeply troubled by the fact that there are children in this world who wake up in the morning and will not eat that day. There are places in this world that we live in where hunger is normal, where the people almost accept the lack of food as a fact of life.

This is the same world where we as Europeans have experienced beef and milk mountains, where supermarkets and restaurants disgard huge amounts of food every day, where we are overweight, where we carry mobile phones which cost almost an entire year of wages for a trained school teacher in somewhere like South Sudan. 

I’m sorry that this turned into a loathsome rant. It wasn’t intended. I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks now. I haven’t quite been able to get my feelings out in any intelligable sense. I haven’t been able to make sense of my unexpected outrage or the fact that I’m so troubled by it now more than ever before.

All ready for sports day!

A very quick update because I’m all excited! Tim went to Torit this week and thankfully returned safely but tired this afternoon but not before doing a little shopping for provisions and for this present for me! 

It is a punishing drive of about 6 hours on bad and dangerous roads. I had armed him on Monday before he left with two packets of cigarettes. (Nana if you are reading this, I found them on the airplane and they’re definitely not mine!) I figured that if the car was stopped on the way, the cigarettes would be useful in negotiations. Anyway, thankfully they weren’t needed and the journey both ways was fine.

Tim returned with this amazing present for me. Now I’m all ready for tomorrow’s sports day at the school!!

And, I’ll be able to wear it when I’m shouting for South Sudan in the Olympics now that they will be able to enter teams in the future.

Ole South Sudan!!

  

A lady what lunches in Kapoeta

I’m hopelessly behind with my posts but I’m going to make an effort to rectify that over the next few days. For now though, let me tell you about our day at the market in Kapoeta last Saturday. 

Fuel is a rare commodity here now. There is no diesel and we have heard that a permit is now needed to move fuel outside of the capital.  

We had heard that there might be fuel in Kapoeta that morning so Fr. Matthew and I went to see if we might be one of the lucky ones who managed to fill the tanks that day. Of course, once wind of the word got out that a car was going to Kapoeta…it was full! We had some teachers from both the primary and secondary schools, all of whom had business to do in the town that day. Tim was busy here working on accounts and making things ready for his trip to Narus this week. 

We set off after breakfast. It was already hotter than hell even at 9:30am in the morning. The drive is about an hour and as we crossed the dry river bed we met many villagers who were on their way to the market. Mainly women carrying jerrycans of milk or waragi (the illicit local brew), charcoal or firewood on their heads. The men of course were busy sitting under the trees playing dominoes.

When we arrived, we deposited our passengers and drove out to “the junction” to see about diesel. We were out of luck I’m afraid. The truck had been stopped leaving Juba. I daren’t presume what might have happened to the fuel.

Having failed in our mission to fill the tanks, we decided to have a soda at the bar across the street from the fuel station. One beer for Fr. Matthew and I was more excited that one probably should be about the prospect of a nice cold Coca Cola. The girl brough the drinks and I didn’t notice at first but soon realised that the syrup I was given was not Coca Cola but Juba Cola! To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. 

Because the South Sudanese Pound is now almost worthless, it is very expensive to import from Kenya. Furthermore, the customs officials at the borders seem to operate a set of rules that change weekly. For example, it is possible to move metal across the border but not wood. It is not unusual for a lorry to be held at the border for weeks. For that reason, some clever entrepreneurs in Juba have started bottling something that looks vaguely like Coca Cola but tastes like the nastiest own brand cola one can buy. Devastating!!

Afterwards we had some errands to run at the market. We went to the bakery where we picked up some bread and then to the veg market where we were again unlucky. No fruit and no eggs. Try again next week they said.

The market is also where currency exchange happens. I had Kenyan Shillings but very few South Sudanese  Pounds. Tim had told me that I should expect about 130 SSP for 1000 KSH. In all honesty, the rate is a little higher than this but I wasn’t about to argue. These traders are providing a service and if they cream a little comission off the top then thats more than fair. I wanted to share around a little bit so I asked  5 different traders to change 5000 shillings for me. I expect each trader made about 20SSP from the transaction. I do love a little honest capitalism!

Once our business was done, it was time for lunch. Well, I have no idea what it was but it was delicious! I think it is called angeli which is an Ethopian dish. The restaurant came highly recommended by Tim but I was rather nervous on entering.It was a ramshackle tin building and I’m fairly certain that any health inspector would have had a coronary immediately on entry. I decided I was brave though and ordered the dish from the very handsome Ethopian proprieter. He returned with water and a large tray of some kind of stewed meat with rice, pasta and something orange served on a bed of fermented bread. I think its fair to say that I’ve eaten in some pretty incredible restaurants all over the world but this was right up there!! 

It reminded me of my lunch with Tim and John Marren at “The Ritz” in Kapoeta on my first trip here in 2013. Tim and John still laugh at the colour I turned when I walked out the back to find them skinning a goat right beside the latrine. I pride myself on a fairly sturdy constitution but this was enough to make this girl green…and to give the boys something to really laugh about! Since then, we have called that place “The Ritz”. 





Night time in the wilderness

There are many things I enjoy about Africa but  I am both terrified of and thrilled by night time. Terrified because there are all kinds of nasties that come to life at night time; scorpions, mosquitoes, snakes, big hairy spiders. But I am thrilled by it because it is beautiful. It’s so dark that sometimes I’m not sure whether my eyes are open or closed. Sometimes the moon shines so brightly casting a glow on the world that makes it feel as though it has been snowing. The sky is so full of stars. More stars than I have ever seen. And the Milky Way!! It’s almost as if the universe is rewarding your courage for being outside after the sun sets with the most spectacular show.

And the sun sets! Gosh, each one seems to be more beautiful than the last. Again, the universe rewards your fortitude in getting through a day of punishing heat by putting on a light show which can’t be compared to anything man is capable of producing with fireworks and gunpowder. That burning orange casts a glow on the world and turns trees and anthills into silhouettes. 

One of the things that I am enjoying most about this trip is the nighttime visits to the villages for prayers or mass.

This was something we did not do in Narus. The villages are all very long drives from the main town of Narus so it was not practical to go out there at night time. Here in Riwoto, we are in the heart of Toposaland and the villages are accessible.

Night time too is a good time to get people. The villagers have finished their work for the day. The men have been tending their animals. The women have been cultivating their crops of sourghum, caring for the children, bringing water from the borehole, cooking, cutting wood or making charcoal or brewing beer to sell in the villages. Now that the work is done they have time to come and pray in the darkness. 

We drive out after dinner, sometimes the village is over an hours drive away. We are always joined by some of the Toposa speaking teachers. Tim goes armed with his iPad and portable projector. He shows pictures of that weeks Gospel story and speaks about it in their native Toposa language. While I still don’t understand the language I am now able to pick out words and phrases. It always makes me smile when I hear Fr. Tim speak Toposa with a thick Kerry accent!

The meetings take place just outside the boundary wall of the village. Each village has a meeting place which is essentially some logs arranged in a circle. Sometimes the people bring firewood and light a fire. Although, I’m not convinced it’s needed…at nighttime it’s still warm here.

We are often joined by over 200 villagers. I suppose we’re the only show in town. We always have teachers from our school too who speak to the people about why it is so important to send their children to school. Most Toposa cannot read or write and very few pursue and education. Part of the challenge here is to express just how important that education is.

On one night, there may have been almost 300 people. We talked about education and not one single person in the group was now going or had gone to school. I found this particularly hard to deal with but it was made worse when one man said “if we send our children to school who will take care of the cattle”.

If I had known what was going on at the time I would have retorted with questions about what would happen if the cattle became diseased or if trouble broke out and their cattle were stolen or killed. Inshallah.

   
 

Sunday Mass in Kamai – video

Video

Now that I’m back in London, I can share some videos from my adventure in South Sudan. I posted some pictures a few weeks ago from Sunday Mass in Kamai. We had been due to be there a week before but we were unable to travel because it had rained heavily that morning and there was water in the rivers.

We left Narus at about 7am that morning and travelled the three hour journey together to Kamai. A message had been sent earlier in the week to the Cathecist, a blind man named Michael. Michael is a force of nature and had he the gift of sight, he would be unstoppable.

Mass was a celebration in every sense of the word. The young children were nervous of me at the start and kept a very safe distance but once they saw that I was friendly they couldn’t get close enough. Once again, my hair was a real attraction – these young children had never seen a white woman let alone a girl with long straight hair. What a novelty!!

The beginning of the end…

Gallery

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Monday morning last was a special morning in Narus. It was the last time the three of us would be together in Narus.  We returned from Riwoto on Sunday evening thankfully to find a much recovered Fr.Tim. I made the … Continue reading

Weekend in Riwoto

Gallery

This gallery contains 2 photos.

This weekend I went to Riwoto to spend with my wonderful friend Fr. John Marren. Initially there was some doubt over whether the weekend would happen or not. Both Fr. Tim and I had been ill on the previous week … Continue reading