Give us this Day our Daily Porridge
Last weekend was a great weekend for Maban. It was great because the first batch of teachers trained by the Jesuit Refugee Service over the last two years graduated. The graduate teachers were overjoyed by their achievement and rightly so. The ceremony was simple and full of joy and colour. It was a great celebration. There is no better illustration of the struggle these students have overcome than to note that one of their classmates who started out with them was killed in violent clashes that broke out soon after the course had begun.
These students have overcome so much more than the challenges that any student faces such as dealing with subject material, assignments and exams. (or hangovers - !) And they knew it. That is why they went on a procession through the town of Bunj in their gowns. They wanted all the county of Maban to join in their achievement and they wanted to be a sign of hope. One can only hope that the children who followed them through the dusty streets of Bunj may follow in their footsteps of educational attainment in the years to come.
So this Monday we begin with the next batch of students. There are close to 500 enrolled across the 4 refugee camps and the host community. Over the last few weeks, we have been finalising the recruitment of the tutors who will roll out the training of these teachers over the next two years. These are not only experienced teachers but in many cases are 'experienced refugees' themselves. In fact, some have received their early education from the Jesuit Refugee Service when they themselves were refugees and have qualified as teachers while living as refugees in Keyna or Uganda. Now they return to their home country to help others who find themselves, refugees. It is amazing to think that so many people spend so many years of their lives as refugees and yet can use the opportunities available to them not only to survive but to get a third level education as well.
One of my tasks over the next week will be to finalise arrangements for basic repairs to the building where some of these tutors are accommodated by us and where some of the teachings will take place. They have moved into what we call the Arrupe Learning Centre or the ALC. ( pictured above). Fr Pedro Arrupe was an amazing Jesuit who established the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1980. The ALC was built by the South Sudanese Government as a Vocational Training Centre but was soon taken over by the military and used as a barracks. JRS has been granted permission to use it as a learning centre. It has great potential, but it needs work.
This picture shows one of the ALC classrooms from the outside.
This picture (above) shows the inside of a classroom. One of the challenges is the absence of or destruction of the suspended ceilings which makes it difficult to have a number of classes happening at the same time due to noise travelling.
The tutors share the room, two and three to a room. ( see the picture above) Many of the windows to these bedrooms have no glass or the glass is broken. My priority will be to get mosquito mesh over all the windows - there are 17 windows in total. We will cope without glass for now, but as the rainy season approaches, so too will the mosquitos.
I sometimes wonder what if the teaching staff of Mary I Teacher Training College and Limerick or St Pat's Drumcondra were asked to move into such accommodation. I am sure it is the INTO rather than Mosquitos I would be dealing with! Yet the teaching staff I am dealing with are no less professional and yes they deserve the best of accommodation and we will strive to improve the facilities. In the meantime, they get on cheerfully and professionally with their preparations for their new students. It is just one more example of the strengths of this culture - people manage with less - and though happiness is always a dangerous thing to be measuring - people here often seem more content than people I know who have all the benefits of western living. I think this is what Jesus was on about when he says ' Give us today, our daily bread...' Living in a society and a culture of accumulating things does not lead to happier people!
I also want to repair the suspended ceilings in the bedroom in the hope that this will be enough to convince the bats to move out or at least keep the bats and tutors apart. One final task will be to replace the water tank which is so full of holes that it cannot be repaired. These would all be simple tasks if there was a Woodies or B&Q or some such shop down the road. But all these items must come from hundreds of miles away in Juba the capital and must come in by air. So it takes time and patience. But I am hopeful that in a few weeks we will have these issues sorted. I hope I can show you the updated pictures of our improved ALC.
I will finish this post by showing you a few pictures from my morning routine. I have been lucky that my stomach has adjusted to African food without any issues or unnecessary visits to the latrine! I think part of this is down to the fact that I cook myself some porridge each morning. But it is not a matter off turning on the switch in the electric or gas cooker...
The fuel that is used locally is charcoal ( partially burned wood). It generates great heat and is easy to light. The only downside is that it is contributing to the loss of trees in the countryside.
Charcoal is burnt in wire baskets that sit into a hole on top of a metal box that keeps the basket stable and collects the ash.
and hey presto ... my daily porridge. Give us this day our daily bread...