MISSIONARIES IN SOLIDARITY: A COMBONI MISSIONARY EXPERIENCE IN SOUTH SUDAN

Created on Thursday, 11 December 2014 06:07

11 December 2014 – (By Br. Paolo Rizzetto – Wau) – Comboni Brother, Paolo Rizzetto, shares his missionary experience as a tutor at the Catholic Health Training Institute in Wau. He makes his reflection and sharing in the light of the 150th Anniversary of the Comboni Plan for the Regeneration of Africa by Africa.

 

Read full reflection and sharing
In the past two years, since I was appointed to the Province, I have been ministering as a Comboni Missionary Brother, called to be a tutor in the Catholic Health Training Institute in Wau. This institution is one of those programmes that have been taken over by Solidarity with South Sudan, with the focus on empowering South Sudanese People in certain areas of human development and pastoral care.
This article is an attempt to share the experience I have had so far, and to read it in the light of St Daniel Comboni’s Plan as we celebrate this 150th Anniversary. In this article, I will read together with you some of the statements retrieved in the Plan and I will read them from the perspective of a Comboni Missionary, entered to take part to this “new paradigm” of being religious and evangelizers, called Solidarity with South Sudan.
‘Save Africa by Africa’: 150 years from the Plan for the Regeneration of Africa
Fr. Comboni wrote in the Plan: “The Catholic, who is used to judging things in a supernatural light, looked upon Africa not through the pitiable lens of human interest, but in the pure light of faith; there he saw an infinite multitude of brothers who belonged to the same family as himself with one common Father in heaven”.
It was 15 September 1864. After years of data collection, analysis, reflection and prayer, Fr. Daniel Comboni felt that the “hour of Africa had arrived”.
In his foresight he wrote: “The Plan, therefore, which we propose is: the creation of innumerable Institutes for both sexes to surround the whole of Africa […], in which both Europeans and Africans could live and work”.
Fr. Comboni hoped so much “that the new Plan for the Regeneration of Africa” would receive “the co-operation of all holy institutes working for the spiritual advantage of African people”.
The Apostolic Missionary of Central Africa believed that, the evangelisers “following the example of the Divine Pastor, would remove the yoke of oppression from the shoulders of Africans and would bring them into the free and joyful flock of the Church”.
The above statements have been extracted from the Writings of our Founder. In this article I will not make an attempt to re-discover the charisma or contextualize the Plan. Our vision of situations is often biased from the perspective from which we see the world around us… and write about it. For bad and good!
However, I still find fascinating that certain intuitions made by St Daniel, in his own time and expressed in his own language, are still meaningful in today’s time and context.
150 Years Later… it is still the “hour of Africa”
The apostolate of the Comboni Missionaries in South Sudan has been developing since the period following the tragic events of the Madhist revolution. Its beginning can roughly be located at the opening of last century. For about 60 years the Comboni Missionaries have been basically the sole evangelizing agents at work in the ever growing vicariates and future Dioceses. Nowadays, the shepherds, the clergy and the religious Congregation have been at first sharing and later holding the responsibility to maintain alive the Christian faith in the Country beloved by St Daniel Comboni and especially during the years of war.
SSS “the co-operation of all holy institutes working for the spiritual advantage of African people” or simply Solidarity!
Solidarity with South Sudan (Solidarity) is a consortium of more than 200 religious congregations. Solidarity trains teachers, nurses and pastoral personnel in several locations throughout South Sudan.
Inspired by the 2004 Rome Congress on Consecrated life, Passion for Christ Passion for Humanity, this project; Solidarity with Southern Sudan, (Solidarity with Southern Sudan, Solidarity, SSS), is an act of solidarity between Religious Institutes/Congregations of men and women, which are members of the Unions of Superiors General (USG and UISG), and the Church in Southern Sudan under the direction of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC).
After decades of civil war, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in January 2005, the bishops of Southern Sudan invited the USG/UISG to consider the needs of their people. Following a consultative process it became clear that projects related to education, health and pastoral care were needed if the goals of the CPA were to be achieved.
Solidarity with Southern Sudan is a project that seeks to promote the Kingdom of God in partnership with the local church and the people of Sudan through the establishment and development of teacher and health training institutes and those pastoral services deemed most urgent.
In recognition of the dignity of each person, SSS commits its community members to embrace and act out of a spirituality of justice, peace, and the integrity of creation marked by: the proclamation of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ through our life witness and committed action, through our community life together and prayer life, empowering and supporting the Sudanese people as they rebuild their lives, their communities, and their societal structures, shouldering the struggle together with the Sudanese people in their journey of peace and reconciliation.
“Institutes for both sexes […], in which both Europeans and Africans could live and work”.
The Catholic Health Training Institute
Our Motto: Knowledge, Integrity, Loving Care
Our Vision: Improved health care for the people of Sudan sustained by well prepared Sudanese health professionals, according to Christian values.
Our Mission: To train committed health professionals of high moral standard, who will apply knowledge, skill and compassion in providing health care to the individual, family, and community, and take leadership roles in the management of health care services in Sudan & South Sudan.
The Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI) is recognized institute for the training of diploma level nurses and midwives according to the curricula developed by the Ministry of Health and Higher Education in the Republic of South Sudan. The Institute is owned by the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference and was reopened and run by Solidarity with South Sudan (Solidarity) at their request. The first intake of nursing students from the Catholic Dioceses of the then Sudan was in February 2010.
The program first offered at the CHTI was a Registered Nursing curriculum, and this was significant in that it was the first RN certified program in the history of the country. The program requires 3 years of academic training and clinical rotations (3½ at the beginning). In addition to the SRN program the first group of midwifery students began the state certified program in January 2012, and the second group was enrolled in January 2014. This program was set up because of the critical need for these services in South Sudan.
At the moment 40 women and 54 men are from the 10 states and different tribes in the Republic of South Sudan and from Abyei and Nuba Mountains. CHTI is actively seeking to enrol a greater number of women. Solidarity with South Sudan is working with local communities and schools to offer pre-service training for women in order to encourage them to study registered nursing and midwifery at CHTI.
One of the goals of Solidarity is to improve educational opportunity for women and girls. In 2012, we began some special affirmative action programs to create greater opportunity for women and girls in education.
The main achievements, seen at CHTI up to date, include:
•    2 classes (of 16 and 11 students, respectfully) achieved the completion of studies, with the First Graduation Ceremony of the Registered Nurses 2010 in July 2013 and the second (Reg. Nurses 2011) in December 2013. Other two classes (Registered Nurses and Midwives 2012) are due to finish in December 2014
•    The results of the graduated students sitting for the National Registering Exam of South Sudan were really encouraging.
•    In January 2013, the first two student from Torit Diocese and, one year later the first students from Unity and Upper Nile joined the Institute.
•    The consolidated cooperation with St Daniel Comboni Catholic Hospital, where our students can learn and thrive in skill growth.
•    Some of our CHTI graduates have already returned to troubled parts of the country to help and heal those in need. The great good is that the students learn to respect each other and work together, no matter what their tribe or gender.
The major challenges involve:
•    Certain flexibility, that is required because many are the departures and new in-comings. In particular, the departure of Sr. Sneha, first Principal of CHTI and Sr. Stella, who came to Wau since the beginning, was surely a blow to the continuity of the work;
•    The financial sustainability of CHTI, that relies on donor agencies, the Ministry of Health and scholarships;
•    The formation of Health Personnel for all the Dioceses that does not always match  the funding capacity and plan for the future employment of Health workers within their health structures;
•    The need of working with the MoH, towards the presence of South Sudanese within the faculty of CHTI;
•    Enabling disadvantaged students, and especially young women, to attain the necessary entry qualifications for Nursing and Midwifery Training.
Our Hopes for the Future are the following:
•    To be yeast in the bread of life, as Solidarity community, in the CHTI community and most especially in the lives of those we touch in the hospitals, on the road, in the market – in Wau
•    To have our graduates ever growing in knowledge and skill in the service of their people.
•     To welcome our graduates as staff.
Personal viewpoint and experience: being able to see “an infinite multitude of brothers belonging “to the same family, with one common Father in heaven.”
I began my medical profession in an African context. I found people patient enough to train me and follow me up and form me in order to become autonomous in my medical profession. I was first engaged in clinical work. Later, I was given responsibility of an antiretroviral clinic in the rural hospital of Matany, in Karamoja, Uganda. I also engaged more directly with people living with HIV/AIDS, and these persons became important subjects of the call to a preferential option for the poor, in the field of health care. The experience in Nairobi opened me to the importance of pastoral care for the sick.
As a Comboni Missionary Brother, I believe that mission service in South Sudan is an important commitment for the Congregation and an opportunity to serve people who want to start again after so many years of warfare. I believe in the received vocation to brotherhood and in the medical profession, as continuation of Christ’s healing ministry. I also believe that an important task of our missionary work is to form local agents of social transformation for the realization of the signs of the Kingdom of God on this earth.
I find it enticing, to contribute to the training and formation of these future South Sudanese health workers. Although my clinical experience is short and may lack many practical skills, I am happy to offer my little knowledge to accompany somebody else’s learning process. I find it in line with the Founders’ invitation to regenerate Africa with Africans. I have tried to adapt the skills received in the studies of Medicine to a formative ministry, aiming to prepare social apostles in the field of health care. I try to pass to the people entrusted to my service some of the Christian values that shaped my personal formation. As a Medical Officer, I often think of the kind of team work these future heath workers will be able to develop and I try to make them aware that the way they perform their duty will make the difference in the life of the sick and probably matter more than the knowledge they will come to possess.
[…] Evangelisers who, “following the example of the Divine Pastor, will remove the yoke of oppression from the shoulders of Africans”
At this point, I need to say that, it would be pretty useless to write an article about CHTI without giving room to the real protagonists of this adventure. I would borrow some witnesses from the students that have been posted on the website of Solidarity with South Sudan.
[…] “On arriving at CHTI I discovered that every student had a smile and a hug to share – new students, old students, students from different ethnic groups and clans. This was unbelievable. Why? Because the ‘culture’ in South Sudan is still haunted by bad memories of war, human cruelty and hatred that has divided our people and taken away our trust in each other. With the present circumstances, starting on December 15th 2013 our fear of each other has increased and  in this young nation few can share a smile with another person – yet here at CHTI everyone had a smile and a hug. My great dream is to get equipped with knowledge, skill and human love. I have a dream that one day I will make a change in the world – a change that will make the hard to reach regions of the world a stone’s throw away from other parts of the world: then God’s love shall be shown to all.” (1st Year Nursing student from the Toposa people of Eastern Equatoria).
[…] My name is E. and I am from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. Every day the bombs are falling on my people in the Nuba Mountains. I left my home to go to secondary school in the Kakuma refugee camp northern Kenya. After school I went back to my home and I have been working in the Catholic Mission Hospital in Gidel, in the Nuba Mountains. I came to CHTI in Western Bahr el Ghazal State, South Sudan all the way from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. I came all this way to study, to obtain knowledge especially about midwifery. I will study here to become a midwife. I will go back to Nuba to take care of pregnant women, to help them deliver their babies, to take care of the little children. I will learn other things so as to do other things to improve the health of our people in the Nuba Mountains. (1st Year Midwifery student from the Nuba people of the Nuba Mountains in Sudan).
[…] I began my studies in 1998 at the school near my village. I went there from Primary 1 to Primary 8. All my life I have never changed my mind. I want to be a midwife. When the war became bad near my home and life was threatening I dropped out of school but I never lost hope that one day I would be able to return to school. One day I resumed school praising God that I would not forget all I learnt before I dropped out. I was trained to be a community health worker from 2007-2008 by World Relief International and Safe Harbour International. I then did a Basic Health Care Intensive Course learning to help women in labour. I prayed for the spirit and courage to do health care for the vulnerable people in any situation. I pray for compassion and love to help our mothers. Now I have the chance to be at the Catholic Health Training Institute in Wau training to be a professional diploma level Registered Midwife to I can better serve in the field of Mother and Child Health. (1st year Midwifery Student from the Dinka People of Warrap State).
[…] I come from Juba and I want to be a nurse. I was selected to follow the nursing course at CHTI. I want to be a responsible lady in the future so I can help my people here in South Sudan.
In my family, since the death of my father no one has been able to go for training after secondary school. Some of my family did not even have the chance to finish school. Now I have been chosen to train as a nurse – the first in my family. I will work hard at my studies.
We people of this new nation need to put more effort into caring for each other, looking after everyone as our brothers and sisters. We need more people to serve our country rather than to fight each other […]  (1st year Nursing Student from the Pojulu people of Central Equatoria).
The service at CHTI has demanded from me to understand the peculiarity of this relationship with the students: while called to be an educator, I have perceived the tension between being detached and impartial in my service and the effort to understand situations that request greater touch ad sensitivity. I learnt more about my own shortcomings and I discovered that a great deal of trust was given me, constantly. I regard it with concern and responsibility. At times the students’ demands and claims exasperated me but this does not disqualify the fact that many of them are -and will continue to be- women and men of commitment and loving care for their fellow sick patients.
Sometimes I feel a bit stretched, between the two communities in which I am called to live, the MCCJ and SSS. This tension is still present, also due to the way my personality tries to cope with the situation, I guess. In the past two years I experienced that attention is to be paid to how I use the time given to teaching at CHTI, for clinical practice and Community meetings between MCCJ and SSS.
It is not always easy but I accept it, as part of this missionary experience. I am sure I can recommend the collaboration with SSS to other Comboni Missionaries and given the fields of work, particularly to Comboni Brothers, but probably a full sharing in the Community life of SSS Community is a more conducive way of doing it.
All in all, I feel identified with being a Comboni Brother and I feel that to live this vocation as a member of SSS is a great opportunity: it makes me think and believe that we are part of something bigger!