Africa, June 2020, Vol. 85 No. 5
A bright future for the youth of South Sudan
The old maxim goes that if you think education is expensive then you should try ignorance. For almost a century St Patrick’s Missionaries have traversed the length of Africa with a Mass kit in one hand and a blackboard in the other. In every parish that we established, schools popped up often even before churches or more frequently the school doubled up as a place of worship.
Of course, few nations in the world understood as much as ours the value of education as a means to eradicate poverty and to liberate citizens from oppressive regimes and cultures that failed to respect the girl child. Today most of the quality schools in the continent bear the name of St Patrick, St Kevin, St Brigid or other Irish saints and many leading political, sporting and academic figures received their early education from Irish missionaries.
However, with the huge investment and expansion of basic education by most African governments, there is less need now to be a service provider except in the informal settlements in urban centres that are mostly neglected or forgotten. Yet there is one country that still requires our experience, resources and perspiration in the development of education. And that is South Sudan.
South Sudan is the continent’s youngest nation. I had the honour of observing the independence referendum in 2011 when the South voted almost 100% to divorce from the Khartoum government of Sudan. It was a wonderfully exciting time, full of expectation and opportunity. However, within a few years hopes were dashed as a power struggle over the nation’s resources brought everything to a halt. Almost 400,000 died in the conflict and a million more sought refuge in the neighbouring countries.
All the while our priests in Torit Diocese attempted to construct schools and keep the young occupied with the hope that one day peace would come. They established primary schools for boys and girls and had to pay teachers as well as feed the pupils from our benefactors’ contributions. With girls’ education a priority we supported a secondary school in Narus and staffed it with Sisters from Kenya. However, there was still a great need to provide secondary education for the young men and that was the dream of our priests Peter Mwale and Emmanuel Obi.
Like all such ventures it was a leap in the dark and an act of faith that guided them. Initial seed money to fence the land and put up a basic office came from Tralee, Co Kerry, Ireland. Attention then turned to Misean Cara – the Irish Aid funded Missionary Development Office. Thanks to the people of Ireland, classrooms, offices and dormitories were constructed and the first students were admitted in February 2019. It was a trying time to recruit teachers, find suitable students and hope that the conflict that divided the nation would not interfere with the learning or bring disharmony among the young men themselves.
Further expansion took place later last year and so it was time to name and open St Patrick’s High School, Nadapal – just five kilometres from the Kenyan border. Appropriately, March 17th was chosen as the opening date. Hundreds came by foot, lorry and bicycle to witness the ceremony. Bishop Paride Taban – who first invited St Patrick’s Missionaries to Torit in 1983 and who though now retired, is still very active in peace work – led the Mass. I had the honour of representing St Patrick’s Missionary Society.
There are currently 161 pupils in the school under the guidance of Head Teacher Innocent Okello. No doubt this school will expand in the coming years and offer quality, value-based education for the young people of South Sudan. The need is as great there today as it was in Nigeria ninety years ago. Out of a population of twelve million, 40% are under 15 years of age. Yet, a million of them are out of school. Only 70% of the nation’s children are in primary education and a mere 10% in secondary education. Is it any wonder then that there are 4 million illiterate adults!
Fathers Peter and Emmanuel alone will not solve the problem, but they are bringing light and hope to a troubled generation. They are demonstrating, as in the words of Nelson Mandela, that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. They are fortunate too that the warring political factions eventually made peace earlier this year, in February. May the Lord Bless the work of their hands!
Fr Gabriel Dolan was ordained in 1982. He combines a passionate concern for Human Rights with youth and parish ministry in Kenya.
©Africa, St Patrick's Missions Magazine