Sr.Edvine, Principal of St Bakhita Girls' Primary School in Narus, Sudan, recently spent 3 weeks in California. Since it was her first trip outside of East Africa, all of it was new to her. She participated in a workshop with 35,000 others at the Anaheim Convention Center, she saw the vast farms of the California's Central Valley, she enjoyed Mexican food, she visited local elementary schools, she toured a teacher resource center, she met with donors, she even saw SNOW at Lake Tahoe. When I asked her what the most amazing part of her visit had been, however, she immediately replied, "The roads." Never had she traveled on such smooth roads. Never had she been able to cover a distance of hundreds of miles in a few short hours. "Oh," she said, "if only Sudan had such roads!"
Displacement remains a sad fact for many Southern Sudanese. Though the civil war ended several years ago, internal fighting between ethnic groups is still a huge problem. In this photo we see a young mother and her two children whose village was burned during tribal clashes in April in Mapuordit. She fled and is now camping out with the few possessions she could carry away: a mattress, a cooking pot, a goatskin, a plastic chair. She received mosquito netting and blankets from Sr Philippa, Principal of the Mapuordit secondary school where Mercy Beyond Borders supports the all of the female students.
"Camping out" connotes happy summer vacations to many American youth. It carries a very different meaning in most parts of Africa.
Several months ago, Mercy Beyond Borders displayed this photo of Sr. Philippa Murphy, Principal of the only high school in Mapuordit. She has been working hard to increase the number of girls at her school. What she certainly did NOT have in mind was a sudden influx of women and children last month coming as IDPs (internally displaced persons) seeking refuge on her campus from a fierce upsurge in fighting between the Jur and Dinka tribes in the area that left at least 38 dead, many villages razed, and thousands of villagers fleeing for safe haven. Now Philippa must cope with trying to begin school in order to provide some sense of normalcy for the students while hundreds of uprooted families are camping out on her grounds, lacking proper shelter, sufficient food, and not knowing what lies ahead for them. Local authorities have been slow to bring emergency help.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. No, it's not a new dance craze, it's a description of the uphill struggle to make any kind of substantive progress in Sudan. Take a look, for example, at this picture of the brand-new primary school in Yirol, where a recent wind storm ripped off the metal roof and the ensuing rains flooded the food storage and school supply rooms, ruining everything. It's hard not to get discouraged when so much hard effort can be undone overnight by weather, by bandits, or by plans that go awry. Those who work in Sudan have to be long on patience, sticking to their goals despite frequent setbacks.
Since most of us live in places where water comes on at the twist of a tap, where electricity is constant, where roads washed out by bad weather get repaired in good time, and where food is merely a short hop to a nearby grocery store, it's hard to grasp the remoteness and challenges of S. Sudan. Trucking in replacement metal roofing for this school (from Uganda or Kenya) could take another 6 months....Meanwhile, where will the children learn?