In 2011 MMM decided to respond to great human need in South Sudan. The world’s newest country was in the process of recovering from Africa's longest-running civil war. In November 2012, three Sisters, Chinyere Iwunze from Nigeria; Irene Balzan from Malta; and Odette Nahayo from Rwanda, were assigned to respond to the request from Bishop of Wau, Rudolf Deng Majak, for medical personnel.
By population, Wau, in Western Bahr-el-Ghazal State, is the third-largest city in South Sudan. It has a huge number of settlements for displaced people who fled during the war and returned after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. The MMMs will provide community-based health care for almost 25,000 of these people. There are no services or infrastructure and the people are living in grass-roofed huts. Malaria is a major problem because the settlement is close to the river.
Their orientation for this venture included team-building, input from people with experience in the country, input on trauma and Capacitar, and concrete planning. Arrangements were made for them to learn Arabic. In view of the insecurity of the situation, the Comboni Missionaries, Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa, and other Congregations who work with Solidarity for Southern Sudan provided assistance. Also for support the new mission is linked to our MMM communities in Kenya.
In her diary, Sister Irene noted about one down-to-earth session, “We discovered that we will need gum boots, hats, raincoats, and closed shoes to prevent jiggers. We found that bread-making will be part of each one’s portfolio!”
Irene also noted, “We reflected on our MMM mission statement and why we are going to South Sudan. We are invited to be a healing presence through God’s healing love and to develop an open heart, mind, and will...We looked at the process of reconciliation, where pain is acknowledged and healing of memory begins.”
On 2 March 2013, Sisters Chinyere, Irene, and Odette left for Wau. Soon after moving into their new home they embarked on a needs assessment with the help of Andrew Otsieno, an MMM Associate. They gathered information with the Eastern Bank community to determine the health needs and what their priorities would be. The assessment showed that an inadequate clean and safe water supply and poor nutrition and feeding were important issues.
They also noted, “We celebrated Palm Sunday with the people in Eastern Bank in a thatched ‘chapel’, with poor ventilation and lighting. It reminded us of the place where Jesus was born. This is really Emmanuel: God with us. The lively Mass invited us to be humble and grateful.”
Following the needs assessment, they started work on an action plan and met with government officials. The community were prepared and encouraged to represent their needs to the Inspector of Water and Sanitation and the deputy for the maintenance of hand pumps. In putting forward an adequate water supply as one of their priority needs, one of them said, “People queue for two hours before they are able to fetch water at one hand pump.” After the meeting, the community immediately gathered together to carry out the tasks they had been given. Sister Irene noted, “We could feel their enthusiasm to pull together to solve the water problem.”
The Sisters attended cluster meetings on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) with other partners that are involved, including those from other counties. These meetings and collaboration with the DWS resulted in three broken pumps out of seven being repaired. The materials for the other four were ordered from UNICEF.
They are also addressing poor nutrition and feeding and discussed the introduction of sack gardening. Sack gardens are tall sacks filled with soil from which plants grow. They are good for areas where there is little or no healthy soil. They are also fairly efficient in use of water. They help to improve a family’s diet by adding fresh vegetables with less water needed than a typical garden.
In September 2013, the Sisters wrote, “As our work is gradually taking shape there is a very real sense of collaboration with the Eastern Bank community. We pray that reconciliation, justice, and peace will also be its fruits.”
As Medical Missionaries of Mary, we are part of the enthusiasm and feeling of hope as many people – local individuals, missionaries, and other organizations - work together to build a new country. Please join us in supporting this adventure in faith.