Fr Alan in South Sudan: Young people fighting COVID-19 in Rumbek - Missionaries of the Sacred Heart
01 Jul 2021

There seemed to be a dreadful inevitability to it, but no one was surprised last week when Uganda joined the list of East African countries that have gone into lockdown in response to a surge of coronavirus infections. Along with Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, Uganda has seen an increase in community transmissions and hospital admissions. All these countries roughly surround South Sudan, but to date our numbers have remained exceptionally low. How long that stays that way remains to be seen.

“When these young women commit to something, there are no half measures.”

In the meantime, we are not sitting idly by in the face of the crisis. In fact, the students of Loreto Rumbek Secondary School decided themselves to take a more proactive, hands-on approach. So it was, on Fr Alan’s day off, that we loaded up three minibuses with students, mops, buckets, sponges, disinfectant, a few dedicated teachers, and a decidedly rumpled, certainly sleepy Fr Alan, and headed off to Rumbek Hospital. The hospital is our main health centre for the entire Lakes State area and is run by an Italian Catholic charity.

The students spent the morning washing down the walls, brushing floors, and cleaning windows. Shortly after my arrival I was dispatched to go into town and buy more mops. Apparently, my cleaning skills were not up to scratch. When these young women commit to something, there are no half measures. They blitzed both surgical wards and the paediatric ward from top to bottom. They also brought along mandazis, a local pastry, for patients and staff alike. They went down especially well in the maternity ward.

“When the pandemic makes its way to Rumbek, we will be as ready for it as we can be.”

It was only a week later when we were back in Rumbek Hospital again. This time we were on the receiving end of their care. A couple of thousand doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been delivered and the hospital were on a drive to get as many people vaccinated as possible. In fact, the vaccine rollout took place in one of the large tents that our students had just cleaned. The process was quick and efficient, and we were registered, injected, and sat down for our own mandazis in no time at all.

The programme for COVID vaccines here will take time due to challenges around cold chain storage availability, as well as a large, geographically dispersed population. Still, there is a determination among the people involved that when the pandemic makes its way to Rumbek, we will be as ready for it as we can be. There will be many people who will be at risk due to underlying health issues, poor nutrition, and lack of access to even basic medication. Please do keep us in your prayers.

Ben Nhialic areer keg a way,
Fr Alan

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