Sudan waits for our help

Aneta Ignatowicz

I greet all from hot Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Today for the first time I have visited the school run by the Salesian sisters who have worked in Sudan for 25 years. The building itself is very small, not enough room to accept all those who want to learn. I have watched the activities of the pre-school children who learnt the letters A, B, C, D for three hours. The teacher began by reading the names of pupils and because he did not know them well he read one name a few times and tried to ‘identify’ it. The colleagues were helpful to show him ‘the victim’. Some kids pretended to be others and the checking of names lasted about one hour. During the time several pupils began fighting and beating. They had to be moved to other desks so there was a reshuffle. Most pupils are refugees from the South, from various tribes whose number exceeds 500 in Sudan. The Salesian sisters have got an interesting programme to teach tolerance. They explain that each tribe specialises in something and if the tribe is missing they will run out of their products. ‘My people’ and ‘your people’ are important. God has chosen a special place on earth for each of us. This lesson is not easy because these people have suffered a lot. You can see it in their faces. They seem not to trust anyone, they are frightened and sad. But I am not surprised hearing their stories, which the sisters told me. What happens here is unbelievable. Since Sudan regained independence in 1955 a real war has been waged here, with short breaks. The biggest persecutions began in 1983 when the law of Shariat – controlling the lives of the followers of Sunni and Shiite forms of Islam, which does not separate secular and religious life, was introduced. Although the law was to concern mainly the Muslim North it actually embraced all, including the Christian South. Two organisations of guerrillas from the South opposed these influences and the war broke out. It lasted almost 20 years. In 2005 a peace treaty between the government of Sudan (the North) and the liberation army SPLA (the South) was signed. Going to the centre of Khartoum is shocking. New financial districts and hotels, of which Poland would not be ashamed, are being constructed. The buildings of the ministries or the headquarters of the firms trading oil are spacious and very representative. And one does not feel to live in a poor country where cases of genocide happen next to you. The International Tribunal has just accused Sudan’s president of all possible crimes against humanity. I go to a petrol station. Petrol costs 1 SDP (over one zloty). The station is called CNPC, ‘Chinese National Petroleum Company’. This consortium controls about 80 % of the export of all Sudanese oil. 70-80 % of the income from oil is used by the government to support the military forces, including the famous Muslim ‘Janjawid’ (devil horse riders). They fight with the alleged rebels in three provinces of Darfur, murdering civilians, raping and crippling women, forcing whole villages to exile and hunger. And the circle closes. John Paul II came to Sudan in 1993 and said, ‘I can see clearly in this part of Africa how the mystery of the Passion of the Lord is repeated in the lives of the majority of citizens.’
Currently, 2 million displaced people (almost half of the agglomeration of Warsaw) are living in Khartoum in camps. They live in very hard conditions, waiting for better tomorrow. I ask, ‘Why do they not return to the South when the fights ended?’ ‘We have no homes left. Everything was destroyed. We will settle, we will begin cultivating the land and the governmental forces will attack again and destroy us’, they answer. It happens indeed. For example, in May the entire city of Abyei, with ca. 100,000 inhabitants, was bombed and completely destroyed in one day. The city is located on the border of the South and the North and it has considerable oil deposits. Oil is extracted in large quantities and at full speed, having in mind the referendum in 2011 concerning the division or maintaining status quo between the North and the South. The place is mostly inhabited by two rival tribes – al-Nour from Misseriya (nomadic shepherds from the North, supporting the Sudanese army) and Moyak from Dinka Ngok from the South. During the day the control is intensive and it is almost impossible to leave the North. Sr. Maria, a Salesian, comes from there. Her mother is somewhere in a camp and one cannot contact her. Her house was completely destroyed. The Sudanese nightmare lasts for many people. That’s why the refugees are afraid of returning. They live from hand to mouth, waiting for better and more secure future although their eyes often show no hope. And maybe this is the worst thing. I admire the courage of the missionaries working here. They do not know whether something is going to explode next day. They are examples of peace and joy for me. Death is a natural stage of their lives and whether it comes here or in the street in Poland – in šah Allah! (what God gives). And although it is constantly uphill work they are united, they help one another and faithfully defend faith, human dignity and human rights.

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"Niedziela" 42/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: