Dear Friends of Solidarity,
It is a pleasure for me to introduce to you Sister Mūmbi Kīgūtha, CPPS (Sisters of the Precious Blood from Dayton, Ohio), the new executive director and president of Friends in Solidarity, the U.S. partner of Solidarity with South Sudan.
Sister Mūmbi brings so many gifts to this role: she is a gifted writer, has an MBA specializing in marketing, and an MA in Justice Ministry from Catholic Theological Union. She has worked with the United Nations in Kenya and as a consultant with Jesuit Refugee Service. She is committed to building the capacity of the young people of South Sudan so that they can assume their proper roles in leadership in this newly independent country.
I trust that she will experience the same support as I have received from you, our donors and friends. She writes now of her recent experience with Solidarity in South Sudan…
Sister Joan Mumaw, IHM
President Emerita, Friends in Solidarity
“I promise to share your stories, the stories of a people who have faced much adversity, but who have not lost hope. I promise to spend my time seeking partners to continue supporting you in the various projects of Solidarity with South Sudan.” I uttered these words and various iterations of them many times during my visit to South Sudan, not as platitudes, but more so as a prayer that God will grant me the grace I need to do this work, as God has continued to do for the past eight years that Friends in Solidarity has been in existence.
Although many countries in Africa can be considered young, if you date them from the time of independence, it was a different experience for me to visit a country that became independent in my lifetime. The deliberations that led to the referendum where the overwhelming majority voted to become an independent country, were held in my home country of Kenya and thus, South Sudan and its people have always been in my periphery.
Prior to and after independence, violence has continued to mar the country, instigated by various factors. A significant one is the perceived sidelining of certain communities and tribes from development efforts and political leadership. However, it is important to note that some conflicts between certain tribes have been in existence long before independence.
I was blessed to have my maiden visit to South Sudan coincide with the Pope’s visit, where he was accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). Landing only an hour and a half before their flight landed, the arrival process moved along very fast, and the excitement was palpable. Huge banners were draped on the airport buildings and many airport employees donned T-shirts or badges with Pope Francis’ picture on them. Leaving the airport, I was moved to see the throngs of people lining the streets where the Pope was scheduled to pass. Various groups were already singing and dancing in anticipation. Attending the various papal events and listening to him and his two religious companions and the roaring affirmation of their exhortations for peace by the massive crowds gathered, I could sense the strong desire for peace that I heard repeated so many times in the ensuing days.
The violence that has occurred repeatedly in South Sudan has left no one unscathed. “We are a traumatized people,” the Bishop of Malakal, Stephen Nyodho Ador Majwok, said to me shortly before showing me around the cathedral’s grounds where mortars had destroyed many of the church structures. Before arriving at his office, my host, Fr. Mike Bassano, MM (the remaining Solidarity presence in the diocese) took me to see the former site of the Solidarity Teacher’s Training College (STTC) which had to be abandoned in 2013 when fighting broke out on Christmas day.
All around Malakal town, the scars of war are apparent, and none more startling than coming across de-mining efforts still going on more than seven years after the conflict. Malakal houses the only designated PoC (protection of civilians) camp, as of now, in the country, meaning that they are still under the protection of the UN and have various NGOs providing services. A new outbreak of fighting in August saw more than 20,000 new individuals move into the already crowded camp. Many more South Sudanese are in internally displaced peoples camps in different parts of the country and many more in refugee camps in the neighboring countries.
In the midst of all this, however, hope springs eternal, as evidenced by the cultural day celebrations enjoyed at the Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio, Western Equatorial State, where students hail from every part of South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, and where all joined together in celebrating the beauty of their cultures and learning the songs and dances of those traditionally considered as enemies. In Wau, I watched as our current and former students, nurses and midwives, supported the sick and helped birth many babies each day with compassion and care. “Our babies bear nicknames that acclaim their healthy and strong countenance,” was the testimony of a member of the Better Nutrition program at Riimenze, where mothers are taught how to enrich their diet with locally grown foods such as soybeans, groundnuts and honey.
The people of South Sudan leave a lasting impression, and I hope that I continue to transmit the same to all whom I encounter in my capacity as president of Friends in Solidarity, the U.S. partner to Solidarity with South Sudan.
Sister Mūmbi Kīgūtha, CPPS
President, Friends in Solidarity
Above photo: Sister Mūmbi with female students from Solidarity with South Sudan’s Catholic Health Training Insitute in Wau, South Sudan in February.