“Fr Victor-Luke worked with all his energy and gave his sweat and blood for the promotion of good education in South Sudan. This effort reached its climax at Mazollari Teachers’ College where he even paid the ultimate price of his own blood being poured out.” These were the words of Fr Leonard Afulo SJ at the funeral of fellow Jesuit, Fr Victor-Luke Odhiambo, who was gunned down on the morning of 15th November by two assailants who broke into his home. He died instantly. The funeral was held in the teachers’ college in Cueibet, where he was Principal. The town is in Gok State, one of the new states decreed by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir in 2015. The states are divided largely among ethnic lines, and this is the heart of Dinka land.
Conflict and Violence in South Sudan
Conflict and violence between tribes and among clans is a major cause of instability in South Sudan. The two main tribes in the country, the Dinka and Neur are pastoralist people who herd cattle for a living and fighting over the ownership and theft of cattle is common. In the area of Mazollari College, inter-clan fighting among the Dinka people is frequent. Women and children take refuge in the college compound, while men of their clans go to fight. While tribes have always battled using traditional weapons, the level and rate of killing each other has escalated because of the widespread use of guns. Almost every man, or every homestead, has a gun. When fighting is taking place, Jesuits and co-workers in the college have to close the compound and attend to people who have taken refuge in it.
When the conflict is ongoing, people cannot move freely, they cannot dig or do other activities that support their lives. Many people have died because of hunger, and many others have been killed by violence.
Hope and a Hunger For Change
But in the midst of this, there a is hunger for education in the region among children and young people. This sense of hope and of a more positive future struck our colleague Noelle Fitzpatrick, who spent several weeks in South Sudan this summer.
Noelle was visiting several Jesuit projects in the country, for IJM and other organisations in the Xavier Network. During her stay she was helped greatly by Fr Odhiambo. His fluent knowledge of Dinka meant that he could drive her safely between locations, and ensure that they were waved through checkpoints on the roads, which otherwise would have been too dangerous to attempt to pass through.
She recalls that ““the man who was affectionately known as Ã¢â‚¬ËœThe Professor’ inspired, encouraged and protected me during my short visit to Cueibet, as he had done countless others during his many years of service in South Sudan.” The sad news of his death inspired her to take a message from his life. ““I am more determined than ever to write from a perspective of hope. To do so is to honour him, his courage, his integrity, his good humour. He dedicated long years of his life in service to the people of South Sudan and to the cause of peace.”