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‘Solidarity with South Sudan’ director: We pray fighting ends



Three Marists involved in the project live in South Sudan

05/06/2015: South Sudan - Photo gallery

The director of a large solidarity project in South Sudan that includes three Marist volunteers expressed concern after rebels officially took over the oil rich city of Malakal.

“We hope and pray that the fighting will end (because) that is the first essential step towards recovery,” brother Bill Firman told the Marist general house press office on May 18.

“Many of the people already have too many hardships to endure,” added brother Bill, who belongs to the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

His comments came just days after rebels in South Sudan launched a large-scale attack on May 15, forcing some army units and hundreds of people to flee the strategic crude hub. The country’s army battled to regain control the following day.

Brother Bill has been executive director of the ‘Solidarity with South Sudan’ project since 2014. It is aimed at educating civilians in teaching, health and agriculture, and has communities in Malakal, Riimenze, Wau, Yambio and Juba. 

Three Marist brothers from Nigeria involved in the project live in Riimenze and Yambio - brothers Christian Mbam, Matthew-Mary Ogudu and Longinus Uche Dimgba.

The real problem is that no-one is effectively in control of either side and there are multiple militias that are more self-serving than really loyally aligned with the government or the opposition,” said brother Bill. “The government is clearly not in control of the economy and the cost of food is rising rapidly.”

“Our health training and teacher training institutes continue to operate as normal but what lies ahead for them is quite unclear,” he added. “We have students to feed as well as to educate.”

The project was born upon request from the Conference of Bishops of South Sudan. Members of the International Union of Superiors General and its male counterpart, the Union of Superiors General, support the project – over 200 congregations of religious men and women.

It has 16 members on the governing board, including Marist brother Chris Wills from the general house in Rome.

“We greatly appreciate the presence of the Marist Brothers and their very significant contribution to Solidarity with South Sudan,” affirmed brother Bill.

He noted that “our work is having an impact but the biggest challenges come from the instability in the country and a waste of resources on fighting.”

“There has also been some recent incursions into religious houses by desperate people seeking money,” remarked the director. “General security is starting to break down but our members have not expressed anxiety so far.”

He explained that some people say they were better off under the north and that “this is not what we expected when we voted for independence.”

“At the moment, it is unclear what to expect, but most likely food and other goods will become scarce as well as more expensive,” said brother Bill.

He highlighted the positive results of the project, revealing that the teacher training college and its health training institute are showing people from different tribes how to live and work together.

“They are a fine people (and) I believe they can build a good future but they will need help for many years ahead,” stated brother Bill. “It will take time for them to identify as South Sudanese first and as (their tribe) Dinka, Nuer, Azanda, and so on, second.”

“The country has resources and will turn out well,” he added. “The fighting will end and re-building will start again, but the question is when.”

(Photos taken by Paul Jeffrey)

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