Like Ireland, South Sudan has a rich tradition of farming. Whether it is the cattle they tend or the small vegetable gardens they plant, the people here survive on the land. We have just begun rainy season and when it rains in Rumbek it pours. So far, I have experienced only a few storms and while they are short lived, they are Biblical in scale. It is not uncommon to have an hour of high winds and heavy rain, with thunder and lightning, before the blue skies and gentle breezes return like nothing happened. A decent pair of wellingtons is a must!
Self-sufficiency and valuable life lessons
This year, though, the rain has been sporadic. The people are not worried just yet, but they are certainly concerned. A bad season can mean the difference between having one meal a day or having no food at all. Women with young families are most especially vulnerable, because they use the proceeds of what they can sell in the market to support their families. With poor rains, they have to water their small fields by hand. Only last week on a drive back from town, we saw a family carrying water from a local well, including two preschool children each bringing a full two-litre container.
In the school, we are working away as we begin a new term, and we too are busy planting. The Loreto compound includes land that we can use for farming. Agriculture is one of the courses on the secondary curriculum and the girls enjoy the experience to get out from behind the desks every now and then. They have planted maize and ground nuts, which are staples that we will use in the school kitchen. This self-sufficiency allows us to reduce our expenditure, while teaching the students valuable life lessons.
Beginning to reap a great harvest
However, other types of seeds are now coming into fruition. At the moment, one of our graduates is back with us during a break in her studies in Kenya. She is working with the child protection team to help educate our students about children’s rights, as well as the importance of healthy and appropriate relationships. In the next week, another graduate will be here teaching English literature in the secondary school. After thirteen years of careful tending, we are seeing the first generation of our students return from further studies abroad. They are among the first, but they won’t be the last. These are bright, confident young women who are committed to their community. They are the pioneers of education for girls and they are determined to support those who follow after them.
This coming Sunday for our Gospel, we have the parable of the mustard seed, something tiny and unremarkable that can grow into a mighty tree, where people can shelter and birds can make a home. The same is true for what happens here in Loreto. Thanks to a team of gifted teachers who journey with the girls, to their parents who value education for the daughters, and to a student who commits herself whole heartedly to her studies, we are beginning to reap a great harvest. It is the fruit of tremendous work; it is a wonder to behold; and it is an absolute good to give thanks to God for.
Read more from Fr Alan’s missionary journey in South Sudan:
- Looking for a Sign on the Way to South Sudan
- Building a Better Future in South Sudan
- Christmas Greetings from Fr Alan in South Sudan
- A Cup of Sugar and Maybe a Goat
- Mock Exams and Real Life in South Sudan
- As Easy as Baking a Cake
- Holy Week on the Move
- Three Arrivals and a Party
- Celebrating the Missionary Life