Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why is she smiling?

If you read the news, you'd think that there isn't much to smile about in Southern Sudan these days.  It's true that there has been a resurgence of violence, and that during 2009 there have been more people killed in Southern Sudan than in Darfur....  It's true that the rains failed again this year, such that each passing month spreads the scourge of hunger...  It's true that two of the faculty at St Bakhita School in Narus fell ill in September: Sister Agnes was hospitalized with severe malaria, and Sister Kathleen was bitten by a scorpion in her tukul.

Despite all the hardship, this young girl is smiling.  Why?  Because she is lucky enough to be a student at St Bakhita School.  Because she's learning and growing, and receiving two meals each day from the school.  And because she has just learned about Mercy Beyond Borders' new scholarship program for girls graduating from 8th grade!  MBB will provide full scholarships for secondary school to the top academic achiever each year and also to the girl who has displayed the best leadership and service at the school.  MBB scholarships motivate the girls to study well, and enable the best and brightest to continue their education through college.  It is one concrete was to ease the severe "education gap" that exists in the country, where fewer than 10% of girls have any formal schooling.

Check out our website next month ( for details on how you can particpate in the MBB scholarship program in Sudan.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Skyscraper, Sudanese style

I have a distinct memory of browsing through a copy of National Geographic when I was about 9 years old and being riveted by a photo of a termite mound in Brazil that appeared to be taller than the buildings in the new capital city, Brasilia, then under construction. The photo made a serious impression on me. I studied and studied that picture, convincing myself in the end that it must have been the clever angle of the photographer that made the work of mere termites look mightier than the work of construction crews with bulldozers, carving their new city out of the jungle.

Since traveling and working in Sudan, I now realize that my childhood conclusion was wrong--frightfully wrong. Indeed, termites do create mounds that rise 15 or 20 feet in the air, vertical dung heaps more imposing and in some ways more solid than their surroundings. Nothing stands in their way. Terminix wouldn't stand a chance! The termites go about their work, unseen and unhurried but unstoppable.

My colleague and friend, Sister Maureen Limer, told me that she once returned to her mud and thatch hut in Sudan after having been away for a week. The painted wooden posts that framed the doorway looked somehow different, so she put her hand onto the frame to take a closer look. The paint was still there, a thin layer of color in the shape of the doorframe, but it encased only air. The wooden branches beneath had been entirely eaten away. When she touched the paint, it crumbled to dust. What could she do but laugh?