ENCOUNTER WITH THE WALKING NATION
By Lily Grace – The political and economic situation in South Sudan has left many people vulnerable to famine and sickness. We are faced with a reality that shows a devastating situation of helplessness. We have become a walking nation of wounded and suffering humanity not by choice but by circumstance. Every day, streams of young and old people struggle to reach their various work places, market or school. Public transport are few, the ones available are either very expensive or a scuffle to get in. The sight of school children especially those as young as five years beckon compassion as they embrace the rain and sun on their way to and from school. Yet, in many countries such children have either school buses or public means of transport available to ride them to school which is not the case in our young nation.
Every day as I take my 9 kilometre walk to school, I encounter my fellow brothers and sisters on this difficult journey. The transport fare has shot up unreasonable within weeks. Two weeks ago, I could pay a ‘boda boda’ (motor cycle) one way 80 SSP but now it is 300 SSP beyond what I can afford. I am not alone in this forceful exercise but together with other companions interested in nation building. Some of the people I meet are starving, malnourished with sad faces. Often times my heart bleeds whenever I see my people competing with dogs on the garbage for their survival. They try to get the best out of the waste in order to live, everything is useful and nothing is wasted.
The market prices are unpredictable. My colleagues in the school share freely what they are living. They cannot afford to buy charcoal which is the most common source of fuel for cooking in Juba. The cost of charcoal at 2,500 SSP/3,000 SSP per bag is higher than the salaries of most civil servants who are now five months without pay. A barrel of water costs as high as 150 SSP, while a bundle of five leaves of ‘sukuma wiki’ is 30 SSP. Many people are surviving on the minimal a day. I witness this daily on the faces of our students and the staff, yet in spite of the harshness of life they are determined to continue with their education. Last week in a meeting with the parents, one of the staff members fainted and we had to accept the cruelty of life imposed on us.
Despite the suffering nation, I have not heard any one time from our leaders a voice of compassion to improve the situation. Our people suffer and bear their pain in silence hoping for a better tomorrow. Some youth and adults due to frustration have resorted to alcoholism, drugs and violence. We are a wounded nation overwhelmed by suffering which cannot be solved only by money and material support, but through true relationship rooted in God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Our Chapter Act states clearly “if we are to overcome our struggles and persevere on the journey of encounter, we must listen to the word and fix our eyes on Christ hanging on the Cross with his arms open, drawing to himself all humanity” (No. 5.1). The true and deep encounter with God is what we need most in our mission today in South Sudan so as to be concrete expressions of God’s presence among our people. The daily encounter with God in prayer cannot be over emphasised in our mission now. It is in prayer that we draw our strength when we encounter our suffering brothers and sisters since in them we encounter God and experience His tender love, mercy and compassion. We might tend to despair or be discouraged but we have a rich heritage from our father St. Daniel Comboni who trod the path before us and we should not be afraid to go on in the same spirit.
Lily Grace, CMS – Juba
Image credits: P. Jeffrey