Our project leader Uche and Mickey, our communicator with the Office of the Prime Minister, have been orienting the team. This includes cultural awareness, as well as a history lesson. There have been hours of questions and answers about the situation in South Sudan and all the people have endured there. It was very informative, but if I had to tell you all the different tribal issues in detail I could not do it. The complexity is mind-boggling. The simplistic explanation is one tribe got positions of power in the government and began living above the law while oppressing others. Another tribe did not like this and began to rise up. Several other tribes then also joined in to try to overthrow the government. The bigger issue is that many of the other tribes do not like one another, so pretty much everyone is fighting everyone else. The whole country is unstable and there is no security. (Uche please let me know if this is too simplistic or inaccurate.)
However, what stood out to me from our meeting was the fact that this is not the first war in the region. There was another one, some years ago, where there were refugees who fled into Uganda. They were here for many years waiting for peace to come. When things settled down, they returned back to South Sudan. Now those very same people who were children when they came before, are faced with the decision to leave again now that they are the adults. Some have decided to stay in South Sudan, because they would rather die on their own land than go back into a refugee camp. Others are fleeing again, bringing their children with them this time.
Uche made a comment that stuck with me, ‘They have an exile life.’ More importantly, our instructors made sure we understood, anyone working with them needs to know they also have an exile mindset. It comes from being forced from their homes. Living in another country that is not their own. Waiting. Simply existing. Living in limbo. Foreigners in a foreign land. For years. No hopes for the future because they don’t know where they will be, or even if they will still be alive in the future.
We are helping Hope Primary School, a school in the camp run by South Sudanese teachers, attempt to develop a model that brings some sense of stability to life in the camp. They need some guidance and someone to come along side what they are doing. Their desire is to create a vision for the future for kids who don’t know how to dream. They want to break the exile mindset. To do so there is much work to be done and it starts with the children. The school will be a bridge to families and develop a sense of community from the inside out. It will give them a place to call their own. It will help them to feel like they are moving forward. The children will be educated so future of South Sudan will be different when they are the leaders.
On paper, it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Theoretically it is neat and clean and simple. But in practice, here on the ground, it is another story. The lack of resources, the lack of personnel, the enormous numbers of children, the environment of hopelessness in the camps, all of it is daunting. All of it is overwhelming to me…and I don’t live here or try to teach 96 students a day with no books, paper, pencils, or materials. I cannot imagine what the teachers must feel on a day to day basis. It is a God-sized vision, which only he can bring to pass.
So in that spirit…here is my prayer.
Please direct the teachers at Hope Primary School. Give them wisdom. Show them the steps needed to progress their vision and yours. Give them strength to teach the numbers of students you bring them. Help them to see past the crowd and into the hearts of each child. Multiply their numbers, bring them more educators and more to support them. Stir in the hearts of the parents to join with the school by helping, volunteering, and being with the kids. Give them divine creativity on how to do this thing they can see. Help them to have innovative ideas for scheduling, and teaching. I pray for the children. That they would feel your love at the school. That they would feel safe there and I pray their minds will be open to learn and they will be motivated and engaged in the lessons. I ask that you give them dreams for their future. That the exile mindset would be broken off of them. Help their thoughts to be looking forward. Heal their hearts Lord. Erase their memory of traumatic events they have witnessed. Allow them the freedom to share their stories with those who are trained to help them. I also pray for their parents. Lord, hold them close to your heart. They are in survival mode and it is hard to see past a lifetime of pain. Heal them. Heal their scars. Give them hope again. Help the children to lead the parents on a new path of hope. Bring routine and normalcy through the school. Help it to feel like a home away from home. Give the teachers ideas for kids and their families to be involved in building a community there. Connect them with the right leadership to carry it through, here in country, and also those around the world who can help them. Thank you Lord for your hope for this school. In Jesus name Amen.