Posted by Br Bill Firman
on 8 May 2018
I am pleased to share with you some insight into the attitudes of our teacher training students and their appreciation of the opportunity they have received. Thanks to STTC tutor and Maryknoll lay missionary from the USA, Gabe Hurrish, who has recorded these stories. Thank you also to Paul Jeffrey, photojournalist, who is once again visiting South Sudan and has provided us with the quality photos.
I came to South Sudan in 2009 and I am grateful that I am still well enough to be here but I recognize the decreasing energy levels that are part of aging. So I am pleased to inform you that the Solidarity Board in Rome has identified my successor. The Board Chair, Fr Paul Smyth, has announced that Fr Jim Greene of the Missionaries of Africa has accepted the position of Executive Director to take over from me, after a transition period, in April 2019. Fr Greene, who is Irish, is currently living and working in Jerusalem. He has previously worked as a missionary in Malawi and has been a member of the General Council of his congregation.
Assuming continuing good health, I am expecting, in the latter part of 2019, to be able to assist with the establishment of our new De La Salle secondary school in Rumbek, South Sudan. There are currently 26 students in the Senior One class that is generously being hosted by Loreto this year. Br Joseph Alak, our only South Sudanese Brother so far, is the inaugural principal. Our De La Salle Christian Brothers have been given a 48-hectare site about four kilometres further away from Rumbek than Loreto on the same road. Construction of the new school buildings will begin this year. Thanks to the pioneering work of Loreto and the quality education provided in their co-educational primary and the girls' secondary boarding school, the people in that region now appreciate the value of education and have made us very welcome.
There are many needs in South Sudan. We can make a difference by meeting some of them.
- Br Bill
184. Student Viewpoint
Recently, yet another class graduated from our Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio. Here are some excerpts from what two students have written:
'A Nubian friend told me about Solidarity. I talked with him and got some ideas. He referred me to Sr. Margaret Scott. After an interview, I arrived in Yambio on Jan.03.2017. My first impression was the classrooms. I had to check the classrooms first. I couldn't believe how nice everything was. I couldn't believe I had this chance. I saw the dormitory, the cafeteria, the grounds and I realized I was blessed by God. I also found out that the staff were very committed and hard working. It is true the schedule here is tight. It is demanding. We are checked for attendance and the faculty is serious about these things. The rules are strictly and evenly applied. I like the quality of education. Secondly, I like the cooperation between the staff and the students. Lastly I like that so many different ethnic groups are here and work together. Before coming to Solidarity I didn't know much about education. I have become a better person now because I am convinced of the need for education.'
'My first feeling when teaching was anxiety and nervousness. I had never done anything like this before. I felt I was under qualified to be able to do this. I didn't have confidence in my abilities. Now I have grown more confident and more self-assured. SSS has improved my knowledge for sure. They have also improved my skills as a teacher. I now know how to manage and handle classes. I was not expecting to be such a competent person when I first arrived. My father is very proud of me for being a teacher. I have also learned how to manage myself and my duties. I am more capable in terms of responsibilities and dealing with different groups. Meeting other ethnic groups has been a good experience for me. I learned that each tribe can love one another. It is possible to live in peace. I say we are all one people. But there are some who do not want to change. It is hard to deal with these people. SSS is trying to encourage respect for each other. I agree with this approach. It is different from other schools. We need to live as one. Even as I talk to you now I see most of South Sudanese no matter what group as my friends.'
Another student, Sam, arrived in Yambio in January 2013 and graduated from Solidarity Teacher Training College in November 2014. There was nothing in his demeanour or study to bring attention to him. He had no special honours or credentials. He was a good student but was usually a quiet and reserved person. Part of his story reads as follows:
'After graduation, I was at St. Cecilia Primary School in Yei. I taught Primary 6 English and Primary 4 Science. There was the crisis in June 2016 in Juba and then later in Yei. At this point, I left Yei for Juba. I met the leaders of the African Inland Church and they interviewed me. Now there were many others who were also interviewed who had diplomas and degrees. We all took a bit of a test also. I got 93% on the score and the others were much lower; one at least was as low at 62%. The AIC people saw me as the best. They gave me a two-week chance to work with the teachers of their school. So I was teaching them about lesson plans, scheme of work, scheduling, record keeping, etc. All of this I had learned at STTC. Then they offered me the job. I was wondering why they let me have the job when my credentials were lower? They said that I was the best teacher they had ever seen. They said that if I knew of any other STTC trained people in Juba to tell them as they would hire them immediately. They knew that even though we graduates from STTC had only certificates, we were better trained and better prepared and more knowledgeable than those with higher degrees. I was so proud of my college then.'
Tabitha is the last born of 27 siblings and has two children of her own. She was working as an untrained teacher but was given the opportunity to attend the Solidarity teacher Training College, She wrote:
'My first impressions of the campus and life, was good. Everyone greeted us and gave a good welcome. We tested and I was placed in Bridging due to my poor English. Those first months were terrible for me because I could not understand anything. My English was so poor and I didn't feel I was learning. I spent all day studying but it was coming so slowly. I couldn't eat my lunch. I was missing my children. I was crying day and night. I felt I wasn't learning anything. I wanted to leave. But now I can't believe the change in me. I can speak, read, and write English after only one year. Sr. Margaret Scott really motivated me. I now understand that we are the agents of change. We are the ones to change the community where we live. Our people don't understand any of the things outside our area. I have learned about different cultures and how to understand other people. I learned how to eat different foods. I learned how to get along with different people, I plan to teach in the Primary school in my village. I will be one of the few with English and maybe the only one who knows anything about computers. I will also be unique in knowing Scheme of Work and Lesson Plans and how to use them.'
What isn't revealed in the above paragraphs are the dreadful experiences many have endured. It is amazing the obstacles many have overcome and past trauma they have endured. I conclude with one of those traumatic tales related by a young man who has articulated his experiences very well:
'I was on a motorcycle with a friend. It was his motorcycle. We were on our way to Yei. As we were going along we could see a car stopped ahead on an isolated part of the road. I wondered why they would be stopped. Too late I saw the soldier come out of the bush right by us. I tried to turn around but the soldier pointed his gun at us. He said to keep going up the road to the car.
They told us to get off the motorcycle and sit on the road. The car occupants had to sit too. The soldiers told us to stay still. The leader started to interrogate us. He asked lots of question. We showed our IDs. One soldier entered the car and started to drive away. The leader went after the car.
Then the remaining soldiers got us into a line and we were marched single file into the bush. There was one soldier behind us in the line. We walked for at least 5 kilometres. We thought they would kill us. But one soldier told us to run back to the road. I don't know why he did that. I begged the soldiers not to shoot because my friend could not run as he had a bad leg. But by God's grace, they didn't.
I had purchased an expensive camera and photo printer that I was going to use to pay for my education and my children's education with a small business. They took that and 3 cell phones. The leader by this time had come back and he told us to get on the motorcycle and leave. I told him that in my bag I needed my certificate. I didn't have fear when I said this. I needed those documents as they were irreplaceable. He again gave them to me. Finally, we arrived in Yambio very shaken up. Those were government soldiers that robbed us. We reported to the police but nothing was done.
Another time I was in my village in my home. We heard that the SPLA in opposition were going to come. There were rumours all over the village. Somebody said they had seen a soldier lurking in the bushes. So I had taken my family (wife and children ) and hid in the bush. I also hid some things in the bush. As we crouched in the bushes I became cold. I returned to my house to fetch a sweater. It was my bad luck that just then the guys appeared. In a minute I found lights all around my house. They broke down the door. They came in with the flashlights and made me come out. I had to sit down. These guys were not in any uniform but you could tell they knew about guns. They asked where my money was. I said I didn't have any. They said I had a camera but I told them it was stolen by other soldiers. They searched me and found 250 SSP. They also took my phone. Then they took me with them.
We went from hut to hut in the village. They rummaged through every house looking for valuables. After finishing, one of them who maybe knew me gave me a chance to escape. As we were walking to another place we were behind and he suddenly told me to just go into the bush and stay still. I did it and then the others were asking what happened to me. That soldier told them I got away in the dark. Then they all left. My wife was so worried. When I got back she was crying and shaking. My children were very upset. I found that myself, I was shaking.
I got word that my brother was killed by soldiers. He was harvesting cassava with another person and in law and a child. My brother, my in-law and the friend were all killed by the soldiers. The SPLA thought they were spies and killed them. One Zande soldier let the child go. He told the child to go back by another road so he wouldn't meet the soldiers again.
We struggled with the government to get the body of my brother. They said we couldn't go there because those soldiers were so scared of spies they would kill us too. One relation of mine helped us as he was like a lawyer. He phoned the commander and asked about the campaign. That commander mentioned the four motorcycles they had gotten.
The commander told the lawyer to come and get the body. The soldiers had left to Nzara. I borrowed a motorcycle to go there. I left at 5:00 pm. There were four others who went with me. We arrived at around 6:30 pm. It was getting dark. We started checking around for the dead bodies. One guy was looking for his father. We saw one body but it was not my brother. We went to the centre of RiRouge. The smell of a 3-day-old body was what led us to the place. The soldiers had just left those bodies on the ground. I recognized my brother only by his clothes. His face was unrecognizable. The other bodies had no clothes on them. I cried when I saw all that. But I knew I had to strengthen myself and bring the body back.
I wrapped him in a single plastic sheet and then I tied the body to the motorcycle. The body was between me and another rider behind me. It was around 7:00pm when we headed back. I called and told the other family members to have the grave ready. I didn't want the trauma to be so great for my family. There was no religious service. The government never investigated.
Even in my young life, I have had so many difficulties and I thank God that I am able to carry on. I hope to get a teaching job when I leave the college here in STTC so that I can begin to enjoy life and make the future better for my children. If my father had been alive he would have supported me up to maybe university. I will have to do this now for my children.'
These are hardy and resilient people determined to create a better life for themselves and their children. It is well worth our being here to provide that opportunity. Thank you to all the donors who make our mission possible.