facebook Fr Alan in South Sudan: Those Who Can, Teach - Missionaries of the Sacred Heart
22 Feb 2024

Schools are always busy in South Sudan in February. The academic year here runs differently from Ireland and England, with our long holidays based around Christmas. So the back to school trials and tribulations began earlier this month. Students have to register for their studies, including paying their fees. When you have a number of children, this can be a substantial amount of money. Usually, the Catholic schools charge the equivalent of two bags of charcoal or just one chicken for the entire year. The underlying ethos is education is for everyone, but everyone should contribute something, insofar as they can. For Loreto, the fee includes a daily meal, their school books, treatment in our clinic (malaria is still around, and never, ever underestimate the number of scrapes 1,300 children can get into), and of course their studies.

We had our opening Mass for the Upper Primary children last Friday and I spoke to them about the great gates of the world, such as the Gate of India in New Delhi, the Golden Gate in Jerusalem, and the Arc du Triomphe in Paris (technically not a gate I know, but the kids were most impressed with the photo). Then we talked about the gate to Loreto Primary School. While nowhere near as famous, elegant, or ancient, they are beautiful in their own way.

The fact that these young children can come through those gates every day, in a country that is largely at peace right now, is a gift. As we do the school runs in Ireland, stuck in traffic, with the rain beating relentlessly against the windscreen, we can easily take this for granted. Here, the peace we are enjoying is a blessing and not one easily forgotten. Just to our north, our immediate neighbours, Sudan, are in the grip of a savage civil war for the last ten months, from which will emerge only losers. The devastation will set back the country by a generation at least and the suffering has been immeasurable. In South Sudan, we are still building here after decades of conflict, and we are aware of how quickly it can all be taken away.

A sign of things to come

Thankfully, in the Catholic University, education continues to flourish too. This is in large part due to the generosity of our MSC benefactors, who have helped us fund the complete renovation of the library, as well as the purchase of blackboards and chairs for our lecture rooms. Just this morning I joined one of our students on his first visit to the school where he will have his teaching placement. It’s wonderful to see. Over the course of the next twelve weeks, he and his classmates will experience what teaching in secondary schools is really like. It will be a steep learning curve for them, as a classroom filled with fifty teenagers in the throes of teenage angst can be a tough crowd to please. Increasingly though, the youth are seeing the value in education and the depth of their commitment is impressive. When our students graduate, they will be among the first properly trained teachers who have qualified from Catholic University in Rumbek. It is a sign hopefully of things to come.

The rest of the University students are sitting midterm exams at the moment. There is no better incentive for them to commit themselves to their studies. Just outside my office window, a number of our final year business administration students are having a small group discussion. It’s something quite typical of any university, but the fact that four of the five participants are women is something that is decidedly atypical here. In total, just over a third of our students are women, up from just twenty percent two years ago. There’s a lot to be done still, but at least we’re moving in the right direction. As I write this, there does seem to be a lot of laughter coming from them. Perhaps I have underestimated the fun that is to be had from managerial economics.

Nhialic ke yin (or God bless you),
Fr Alan

Selected images courtesy of Paul Jeffries.

Read more from Fr Alan’s missionary journey in South Sudan: