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Issue No. 109, July 2011
Peace for every tribe and tongue
With this edition, our monthly newsletter reaches its 9th birthday! Last night as I was preparing it, I looked at a short video on YouTube, about the life of St. Josephine Bakhita.
Born in the region of Darfur in 1869, she was kidnapped by slave traders before she reached 9 years of age. She was sold and re-sold five times in the slave markets of El Obeid and Khartoum. After suffering unbelievable cruelty, she eventually regained her freedom in Italy and died there in 1947. She was canonised in the year 2000 and named patron saint of Sudan.
She has her work cut out for her now, watching over a people who have voted to become two nations. Last January’s referendum on independence for Southern Sudan resulted in 98.83% of the electorate opting for secession. On July 9, the Republic of South Sudan will become Africa's latest independent State.
It is only ten days since the bombardments around the disputed area of South Kordofan were halted. This followed north-south talks brokered by the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa. On June 20 the parties agreed to demilitarize the area of Abeyi where Ethiopian peacekeepers will be deployed. Abeyi's oil production has declined somewhat from its peak a few years ago, but a vital pipeline travels through the area to the Red Sea. International Agencies working on the ground speak of the terrible suffering of 140,000 civilians who have fled the recent fighting. World leaders fear lest another Darfur-like situation should develop. As Ban Ki-Moon said, the real test will be how both sides implement the latest peace accord.
I’ve had a special interest in Sudan for the past 20 years. In 1991 in a small shop in Manhatten I bought my first modem. With a baud rate of 14k, it would now be a collector’s item, but it was the latest thing at the time. "It makes portable connectivity possible", the man in the shop said.
I took a bus to Boston and in our community in Somerville I found Sister Nina Underwood packing her bags to leave for Sudan next morning.
Hitching the little modem to my laptop, I dialled a bulletin board service provided by the Africa Faith & Justice Network. Just four weeks earlier the Web had become publicly available but as yet Windows had not reached my shore. However, within minutes the little dot-matrix printer was churning out sheet feeds of news about the latest fighting around the city of Juba where Sister Nina was heading.
Sister Genevieve van Waesberghe was recently in Sudan for healing workshops where participants wrote 'peace' in the eleven languages in use among them - Shalom, Salaam, Egbwe, Door, Emuara, Kuc, Madipa, Mal, Meer, Taliŋ, Zereda. She tells us of the amazing courage and hope of the people as they pray and prepare for July 9.
We too pray there will be peace and prosperity for all who have survived so many years of civil war.
'UNITE US FROM EVERY TRIBE AND TONGUE'
When the day of Pentecost came around on June 12, a tree was planted in each diocese of South Sudan as a symbol of new birth. From Pentecost Day until July 9, families, institutions, schools and parishes were all encouraged to plant a tree a simple liturgical ritual.
"We, as the people of South Sudan symbolically plant trees throughout our new country. Some of these trees will produce medicine, a sign of healing from trauma and war; some of the trees will give fruit, signs of hope and promise. As we plant these trees, we ask God to bless us and all of creation." So wrote the Bishops to their people when they met last May and drew up a pastoral program in preparation for Independence Day.
The program began on May 28 with a Eucharistic procession. The following day was a Day of Reconciliation, when the bishops called for preaching on reconciliation at all levels, social, political and religious, reconciliation among tribes, mending differences through traditional and religious reconciliation rituals and symbols, sprinkling holy water, washing of feet, lighting a candle.
Then came a week of competitions involving school children, youth and parish groups - drawing, painting, song and poetry on the theme of independence, new life, peace and reconciliation.
On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29, a novena began. The Bishops called for prayer at 5 p.m. daily, with principles from the Social Teaching of the Church. A booklet was circulated in parishes and communities.
Friday, July 8 is a day for prayer and cleaning. "Clean your heart, clean your mind, clean your house, clean your street". That evening will be marked as a Passover.
"In the evening of July 8, we gather in the spirit and tradition of our ancestors, to celebrate this night of our Passover. We come together as families, as neighbors, friends, as religious communities to share a meal together. We tell stories amidst lighted candles as a symbol of being led out of darkness, poverty, illiteracy, tribalism and corruption into newness of life. We ask God to bless us this night and to continue to lead us into new life."
The next day marks the civic celebrations of Independence Day. Then on Sunday July 10, every parish will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving. The prayer for the Republic of South Sudan asks God 'to guide our leaders in the process of nation building… give us the courage to reject ethnic resentment as well as ethnic conflics. Through the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, help us to overcome hurt, hostility and bitterness in our hearts… renew in us the will for honest and hard work… unite us from every tribe, tongue and people.
Sister Irene Balzan writes from our Health Centre in the village of Zaffe in the Republic of Benin.
"I was in the consulting room last week when 8-month-old twins were brought in. The little boy, Ezin, and his sister Toto, both had a generalised body rash and were running a fever. Their weight scored low on the growth chart. However they looked bright and happy.
They were brought to us by their grandmother and their aunt. Upon questioning it was revealed that their mother has been very sick at home, so they have not been breastfeding regularly as they should. Instead, they were being given maize porridge with very little protein. Their blood level was slightly lower than normal.
The grandmother, Agathe, said that her money might not be enough to pay their bill. A lot has been spent already on their mother's health, she explained. Even their food provisions in the house had gone down, she told us.
We gave the necessary treatment to the twins and began monitoring their growth. The grandmother, too, had an eye infection, a very irritating condition and she was constantly rubbing her eyes as they were very itchy. But she did not complain about it as she had no money to treat herself. She wanted to treat the twins first. So we took care of her too. We knew that treating her would mean preventing the twins from becoming infected.
I was very curious to go and visit the mother and see what the problem was. So when I finished seeing all the patients in the queue, I jumped into the car to go and visit.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. I tried very hard to contain myself.
Fatima was there, lying on a bed, swollen abdomen - as if she was 8 months pregnant. Her swollen left leg was covered with all kinds of potents and powders. Then she removed a cloth covering her left thigh revealing a huge, wide and deeply infected wound. Yellow pus had formed a pool inside the wound and that gave an opportunity to the flies around. I was speechless at first, and all I could do was hold her hand.
How could this mother be breastfeeding twins with all this? Fatima had had a caesarian section last October but never recovered.
It was very hard for me to think that someone could be living in this condition right here in our village. We are following her up and helping her to get specialised medical care and hoping some donations will come our way to cover the cost of her treatment and provide food for her little twins.
ARUSHA MENTAL HEALTH TRUST SAYS FAREWELL TO SISTER SHEILA DEVANE
As a missionary, Sister Sheila Devane has always been committed to tackling a need within her competence, addressing it as best she can, training locally based people and then handing over and moving on.
'I have always prayed for the wisdom to strike a balance between discharging my full responsibility and allowing the space and place for new people and new directions', she says.
When 2011 dawned, she knew the right time was approaching for another move. Fifteen years had passed since she founded, then developed and directed the Arusha Mental Health Trust (AMHT). It had become a client-led service that was meeting a great need and was widely respected. The program was formally handed over at a gathering of colleagues, local donors and staff on March 26th this year.
As well as her colleagues in MMM, the event was attended by officers representing the Ministry of Health, local Christian Churches, a Mosque, a Hindu Temple, current AMHT staff members, advisers past and present, Trustees and members of the Board of Governors.
Dr. N. ole King'ori, Head of Government Medical Services for Arusha Region and formerly the Regional Medical Officer, outlined the history of the mental health service from its humble beginnings on the streets of Arusha in January 1996. He spoke of the manner in which Sheila worked right from the outset when she sowed the seeds of a unique and much valued relationship with government and thereafter modelled private public partnership in an exemplary way.
He said the legal Company which is now AMHT seeks to support the Ministry of Health and its structures, to work to high standards and to have the flexibility and creativity needed for working in an area of health care that was new to Arusha - psychotherapy.
Many non-government organizations, he said, talk of close collaboration with government but Sheila and the team, who grew up to become AMHT, actually achieved this. He commented on her respectful style of working which was informed by her belief in God and her Christian values.
Sister Sheila spoke of the over-riding purpose of the day being one of highlighting the existence of mental illness and reflecting together on the great challenge that exists in trying to deliver a mental health programme worthy of the clients. She warmly thanked those present for their commitment to making AMHT and its services possible in Arusha and sincerely asked the guests to continue to help the new team.
The website of Arusha Mental Health Trust can be found at www.amht.co.tz