Friday, March 27, 2009

War or Peace?

Technically, Southern Sudan is at peace. The 21-yr civil war between North and South ended in 2005. Yet violence remains a fact of life, and this anti-aircraft gun beside a thatched hut reminds us that the globalization of arms sales has brought weapons of destruction to even the remotest places on the planet.
On March 6th the President of Sudan, Omar Bashir, was indicted by the ICC for war crimes. He retaliated immediately by evicting all major aid organizations from the Western, Northern and Eastern sectors of Sudan. Mercy Beyond Borders was not affected because we are operating in the South--but Bashir's actions show how vulnerable the displaced are throughout Sudan.
Southern Sudan itself was disrupted this month by a strike organized by former rebel soldiers, all of them disabled by war injuries. Claiming they had not been paid their pensions for many months, they blockaded the roads and stopped all traffic in and out of Southern Sudan. After ten days or so, the dispute was resolved, but not before 17 people were killed for trying to run the blockade.
So violence in Southern Sudan persists, but Mercy Beyond Borders remains committed to easing the extreme poverty of displaced women and girls there. The girls' school we are supporting, St. Bakhita's, now has 850 students. Educating these girls, with English as a common language across tribal divisions, just might tip the future of the country toward peace.... It certainly will help them to raise the standard of living for their own families in the years ahead.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

School to School

These twin girls, orphaned by the Sudanese civil war, are now students at St Bakhita School in Narus, southern Sudan. The setting is less than ideal: blazing heat, 100 or more girls per classroom, some rooms without any desks or benches, few amenities, no running water, rustic outhouses, plenty of scorpions and spiders.... but the 800 students love being there. They come from two dozen different tribes, many of which have long histories of conflict. Here at St Bakhita's, all are learning English, making friends, and starting to bridge those ancestral divides.

Imagine the surprise of the students and faculty when they heard that 4 schools in the United States have been raising money for them! St Mary's elementary school in Sacramento, CA, St Francis elementary school in Bakersfield, CA, Sacred Heart elementary school in Sacramento, CA, and Mercy High School in Middletown, CT have already raised a total of $14,000 for their "sisters" in Sudan.

I am dreaming large dreams now: I dream that the day will soon come when every Catholic School in the U.S. will reach out to schools in Sudan with generous hands. If Mercy schools can set the pace, then everyone will catch the spirit. $50 buys a goat for the students' nutrition. $100 supports a girl at school for a full year. $3,000 pays the annual salary of a teacher. Imagine what we could do together to boost the future of this first generation of girls in Sudan ever to go to school!