CHANGING PERSPECTIVE: A MISSIONARY REFLECTION

Created on Tuesday, 30 December 2014 06:19

30 December 2014 – (Markus Lorenz Korber) – Cattle culture and cattle camps play a significant role among many tribes in South Sudan. More than 85% of the people engage in the care of livestock. Africa’s newest nation has also some of the world’s worst indicators in education. Half of all primary school-age children are out of school. Dropout rates are very high, and few children make it through to secondary education. Gender disparities are marked at all levels. And those children who are in school have limited prospects of learning. The infrastructure is poor, classrooms are overcrowded, and there are chronic shortages of learning materials.

 

President Salva Kiir stated that education holds the key to South Sudan’s future. It is vital to poverty reduction and the development of strategies aimed at building a peaceful society. The greatest obstacle to effective learning is a shortage of adequately trained and properly supported teachers. South Sudan’s challenges in education cannot be viewed in isolation. High levels of poverty, food insecurity, and parental illiteracy transmit educational disadvantages from parents to children. Conflict and insecurity are a perennial threat across large areas of the country. In a nutshell, South Sudan is facing an education emergency.
The Comboni Missionaries in South Sudan are present among the pastoralists. The Secretariat of Evangelization of the Province has organized several meetings about our commitment among cattle-keepers. In 2012 – after a four days workshop on Comboni and the Pastoralists in South Sudan – we drafted some guidelines for concrete action. Among them was the field of education with proposals like to promote education by supporting government schools through teacher training; to favour access of children to education in a way that they keep contact to their cultural environment; to help women to support the education of their daughters; to engage in civic education.
I have been working for more than seven years in Tali among the Mundari tribe, in Central Equatoria State. Lack of services has led to migration from rural into more settled areas. In recent years, conflicts between Mundari and neighbouring tribes have led to cattle – raiding. The raiding is in part due to competition for grazing lands and use of water points in times of scarcity, but also reflective of wider raiding aimed at accumulating wealth.
The Mundari In Tali Mission we run a primary school where Fr. Martin Loku Mödi is the director. Fr. Martin is a Comboni Missionary and a son of this land. The Mundari are pastoralists as well as settlers. They are settled but because of lack of pastures. During the rainy season, they move with the cows in order to look for salty grass in certain areas among neighbouring tribes.
Cows provide security; any problem that may arise can be solved easily if a person owns cows. Cows are a treasure for pastoralists, for their survival and prestige. The more cows a person has, the happier he feels His family – especially his children – are respected and well known in the locality and in the surrounding villages. Furthermore, cows are a kept for dowry. Who is without them will neither be respected nor get married. In a family, girls are a source of cows. They are married away in exchange of many cows. Therefore girls are protected because they are a source of income for the family. They are protected until they get married. People access to cows also through trade and raiding.
Few among the pastoralists have understood the value of education. In a family the boys are divided: one or two go to school and the rest remain at home to take care of cows. However, when school fees are demanded, few are willing to part with a cow to pay them. As a result, students may have to leave school because of lack of family support.
Cows are a treasure that cannot be parted with easily. Few boys go through the whole formal educational process. It is also true that most parents are illiterate and find difficult to understand how education would help their children. In other words, more efforts must be exerted into educating the pastoralists. Education is the people, community, relationship, and insert ideas like equity and justice in a society led by self-interest.
Education will also improve the lives of pastoralists. In fact, education would bring a change of behaviour, better treatment of each other in terms of respect of properties, practice of honesty and peaceful living. Educated persons ask the question “why”. In this way, there is an opening up to dialogue and deeper analysis which would lead to the peaceful solution of a problem.
Investing in education would help change the attitude of pastoralists. Education changes the mindset. As such it frees the person from negative thinking and practices like cattle raiding, a source of strife and death.
Often, pastoralists act ‘wildly’ simply for the sake of fame. Girls are disrespected and treated like commodities. Their consent to marriage is rarely considered. The father or the family is simply interested in how many cows this girl would bring to the family. These behaviours will change only through education.