Building a new nation

Great work is being done in South Sudan

As news of fighting between rival groups in South Sudan dominates the media these days, it would be easy to forget the progress that has already been made in this, the newest country in the world. Since 2008 a new missionary endeavor called Solidarity with South Sudan has been working to build the capacity of the local South Sudanese by training teachers, nurses, midwives and diocesan personnel. This is an enormous undertaking in a region that was largely neglected when part of Sudan and where illiteracy rates still rank as some of the highest in the world.


To date almost 1,600 teachers – of whom nearly 400 are women – have followed in-service training programmes offered by Solidarity staff members. One of Solidarity’s goals is to improve educational opportunities for women and girls in South Sudan. During 2013 the two teacher training colleges at Malakal and Yambio have seen their first students graduate as new teachers, often taking up positions in newly built schools.

Most teachers have to begin their training by improving their command of English. In the past schooling was offered in Arabic and without acquiring this proficiency, teachers could soon find that their future students have a better grasp of English. It is wonderful to see the joy of teachers and trainee teachers as they gain new competencies and new confidence. They know the challenge that awaits them as they will return to schools where their colleagues have received little formal training.


However Solidarity trained teachers want to encourage others to follow in their footsteps and undertake training. These newly trained teachers have learnt to take pride in their profession. They realise that they will serve as leaders for peace and reconciliation in their local communities.

Trained nurses and midwives are vital if adequate health care services are to be provided throughout the country. The Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI) graduated its first two class groups of nurses in 2013. It is expected that in 2014 student numbers will reach almost 100. These students have made extraordinary progress during their three and half year residential programme. One of the students said recently that when he thought of nurses that he knew in the past they had little knowledge and few skills. Now he and his companions know, from practical experience in local hospitals and clinics, that they are seen as well trained professionals. Some of these new graduates are working in areas currently experiencing violence.

A new missionary endeavour

Solidarity with South Sudan was formed in 2006 when the Sudan Catholic Bishopsí Conference invited members of religious congregations to bring hope and healing to the people of Southern Sudan.

Religious congregations came together to pool their limited resources of personnel and finances to help the people of this war torn region.

Initially 19 sisters, brothers and priests volunteered to go to South Sudan as teacher and nurse trainers, administrators and pastoral workers. Most had already worked as missionaries in different parts of the world and they brought a rich store of experience to this new mission.

When they arrived in South Sudan there was little or no infrastructure ñ what had existed had been destroyed during the war and little or no development had taken place.

The first task was to find simple accommodation and begin the task of constructing the teacher training colleges, the restoration of the damaged health training institute and the provision of staff houses. Currently there are 31 full-time Solidarity members, representatives from every continent, who are members of 18 different religious congregations of men and women.

Each year they are joined by lay women and men who volunteer for full-time or short-term work in South Sudan. Solidarity communities are an important witness of what can be achieved when people of different nations live and work together.

What does the future hold?

While the present conflict affects many, the actual fighting has to date been contained to the key towns of Bor, Bentiu and Malakal. Solidarity members have been able to continue various training and pastoral programmes in other areas. They have visited UN camps where thousands of internally displaced people are being provided with food, water and sanitation in secure locations. Most commentators agree that the present armed conflict has its roots in differing political visions within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement which has rekindled old enmities. The fragility of peace in South Sudan emphasises the importance of the work undertaken by Solidarity in forming leaders who will build a peaceful reconciled nation.

.Sr Pat Murray IBVM is the former Executive Director of Solidarity with South Sudan.