The Spiritans began operating in South Sudan in 2012. Today we are a group of four confrères: Fr. Boniface Isenge and Fr. Sospeter Kiarie from Kenya, Fr. Nolasco Mushi from Tanzania, and myself. We all manage projects such as agriculture, education, emergency relief, water or sanitation as well as the pastoral programmes of our Christian communities.
We are playing our part in raising awareness of COVID-19 in a country whose first death from the virus was only recorded in mid-May. People have yet to fully take on board the serious dangers posed despite the fact that the UN warns that the outbreak is now growing rapidly, with a rising death toll and a significant number of health workers and many members of the COVID-19 task force, including two of the country’s Vice-Presidents, having tested positive.
South Sudan scores particularly poorly in terms of numbers of ventilators, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds or trained medical personnel at its disposal, though the WHO is working to improve health facilities and train health workers across the country. In the Diocese of Rumbek where we operate, our focus is a programme emphasising the need for handwashing, social distancing and, ideally, wearing face masks. This engages with the women and girls – and the few men – who regularly collect water from the various boreholes in our communities.
With the closure of South Sudanese schools and churches, we are using more of our time to pursue other activities such as gardening, farming and food-distribution. We have also built a new primary school at the cost of €400,000 in Holy Cross Parish, an isolated out-station of Rumbek where there was only a ‘hedge-school’ until now. With the support of Misean Cara, Fr. Nolasco is constructing a set of 4 classrooms for use by children from a nearby leper colony.
We continue to pray that the peace process will hold, that the virus will pass without leaving behind a major trail of destruction, and that the hard work of farmers here will be blessed with a good rainy season yielding increased food production and helping to keep hunger at bay.+