Visiting Akol Jal on the outskirts of Rumbek, South Sudan was very moving. As Headteacher James Majang showed us around the Multi-educational and Agricultural Jesuit Institute in South Sudan (MAJIS), he explained how they use the their classrooms as a primary school in the mornings, and as the as the Agricultural Institute for the women farmers in the afternoons.
The recent interest in the local Dinka community in educating their children is really unprecedented. The Governor of Rumbek ruled in 2022 that children must be sent to school. Up until then, the local community had little interest in sending their children – as the children were needed at home to help their mothers in getting water, cooking and farming. Once a girl reaches the age of 13 or 14, she gives up the work in the home and the marriage negotiations begin. With boys, at the age of 13 or 14, they too give up the work in the home, dress smartly, are served in their homes by their younger siblings and they begin to enter marriage and dowry discussions. If a girl becomes pregnant before dowry has been agreed, she and the female members of her family are beaten, and she is forced to move away.
St Peter Faber Primary School is responding to the new interest in sending children to school. With 97 children, the school is expanding quickly. With funding from the Build a Classroom Appeal, and funding from Misean Cara in Ireland, IJI is helping build 3 new classroom blocks and latrines – a good start in expanding the school, while recognising there will be a need for another classroom block in the near future. The children showed us the new site, where the foundations were already laid. A bag of cement in Rumbek costs €25, that would only cost €5 in Kenya. Getting construction materials is a real challenge. The road to Juba was flooded in the last few months, so transporting any building materials from the capital, has been impossible. The team were lucky enough to have purchased the cement bags in May before the floods, so they were able to start the building.
“What was a Lenten campaign in 2022 – “Build a Classroom” now is a reality. Once again thank you for making what was a dream to being a reality in Akol Jal.” Fr Eric Wanyonyi SJ
Before sending our farewells to the students and teachers, we shared the IJI Annual Report 2021 with the Headteacher. James laughed – delighted – ‘that’s me!’ he says, pointing to the cover page.
As we left MAJIS and St Peter Faber Primary School, Fr Eric Wanyonyi SJ drove us back to Rumbek. Along the road, we passed a white wooden cross, marking the spot where the driver was shot and killed some years back. During that time, Irish Jesuit, Fr Richard O’Dwyer SJ was on mission in Rumbek. Richard is now the parish priest in Gardiner Street yet has been remembered well in Rumbek and Akol Jal. Richard was on mission during a time when the MAJIS compound served as a buffer between two different Dinka clans either side – tensions were high and insecurity was a daily reality.
There has been an alcohol ban in the Lakes State for 2 years now, introduced by the Governor. I thought it was strange that the state would want to revert to any alcohol ban, reminding us of times of S’haria Law in South Sudan over 20 years ago. But I only appreciated its impact during my short stay in Rumbek. The numbers of shootings have reduced dramatically. Whereas before, you would expect to see a lot of people walking around with AK47s, now a person must have a licence costing €100 for a gun. There were so many attempts to disarm the local population over the years, all of which failed. The recent introduction of the fine, seems to have worked. Before, people wouldn’t walk around after 7pm for the risk of being shot, but now you can see people walking around at 8pm and 9pm. The Governor has also banned check-points on the road, making the roads more passable for local trade and supply trucks.
The difference in the last two years in Rumbek is stark. It had been two years since our colleague Tim Flynn, who is based in Kenya, last visited the South Sudan teams. The progress made in all the Jesuit schools, centres and institutes has really taken him aback.
South Sudan is not an easy place to live – yet those working with the Jesuits have shown immense persevere, commitment and hope for a better future. Much of that thanks also needs to go to Caroline Sanga, in the Development Office in South Sudan, who not only accompanies the Jesuit projects in planning, monitoring and reporting – but provides a beacon of hope and enthusiasm for what each project can become.
Author: Emer Kerrigan, IJI Programmes Manager