Trip to India Nov 2009 

by Rebecca David


23rd Nov India 09'

Just when I thought there could be no more surprises, today just brought more. Deciding to stay local after our journey yesterday, we visited a blind centre- House of Joy (Vocational Training for the Visually Impaired). There we met the sister and her nine girls who first showed us their knitting, then astounded us with their singing in English and Tamil. They sang the Sound of Music, a Tamil song and an Irish song. We then made an attempt at singing Rejoice in the Lord always, which the girls then joined in with resulting in laughter from both parties. Coversations with them were had afterwards, along with Jenny teaching one of the girls how to use her IPod, and I teaching another to access music on my phone. We later left, returning to the centre for lunch, before walking into town to see the local shops. On going back to the retreat we took a walk to the view point to see the amazing views during sunset.

29th Nov 09' India 
It seems the best week was saved til last as we went back to being treated like royalty in Jodphur. The scene from the air could not have been more different to Kerala or Tamil Nadu- being flatter and much less bulit up. Joshi- the accountant at SKSN school greeted us with flower garlands, and took us to a marbled floors four poster bed in each room mansion- the home of Dr Bhati informing us this would be our accommodation during our visit. (Dr Bhati being the school founders son and now the school secretary). We received another grand reception when we visited the school after tea- a vast place where 400 children with polio from 6-18 are given an education, receive respect and gain confidence. Walking around the grounds after a street lined welcome, it was hard to believe that such a place could exist in the desert, where temperatures can reach 50 degrees in summer- leading to the children sleeping outside.

30th Nov 09' India
We left by ten for Jodphur fort where we had great views of the Blue city. Joshi then met us at the clock tower taking us for lassi ( a yogurt drink that can be sweet or salty), before driving us to the school. There we had a fantastic afternoon and evening, having luch with Mithlesh (Chief Warden at the girls Hostel), and some of the girls; joining in with the excercises; playing cricket with the boys; joining in with evening prayer; being decorated in henna; and having dinner.

 Sudan Nov 2010

by Celia Chu

Every year Project 2030 embarks on an overseas charity mission. Past trips included visiting south India (where did Project 2030 go exactly?) and St Nicholas Orphanage in Russia. This year Becky, one of our London group members, suggested we raise funds for a new radio mast for the Catholic Diocese of Torit in South Sudan. Becky has been the communications officer for the Diocese of Torit for many years, when Christian South Sudan was still in civil war with Islamic North Sudan. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, with a referendum promised from 9th to 15th January 2011 for South Sudanese people to determine whether they want unity with or secession from North Sudan.

Radio Emmanuel was established in Torit in 2009 and is the voice of the Diocese. With less than 25% literacy, it was a valuable source of news, information and education to the people of the Diocese. However, due to limited capacity of the existing mast and the size of the Diocese (equals the size of England), it only covered the Central Deanery. A new mast would boost signals and increase coverage. We planned to visit the Diocese in November to bring our funds and see the work of the Diocese in re-building South Sudan. We would be visiting at a very special time: as well as witnessing the preparation for the historical referendum, it would coincide with the diamond Jubilee of the Diocese and our own Project 2030 tenth anniversary. 

On a cold November morning, Jenny, Rutendo, Hans and I set off from London. We managed to meet half of our fundraising target of £10,000. We flew to Nairobi to meet up with Becky who had arrived ahead of us. We visited Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek, Bishop of the Diocese of Torit. He was receiving dialysis in Nairobi for a failed kidney transplant. Despite ill health, Bishop Akio was in good spirits. He welcomed us, set the scene and blessed us for our journey ahead. The following day we flew into Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Father Ben met us at the airport. He was the administrator at the Diocese and would act as our guide throughout the trip. On landing, we were immediately greeted by the intense heat, and the many signs, billboards and vehicles from international aid agencies. We made a brief stop at the Sacred Heart Sister's compound. Their order was founded by the Combonian Fathers 50 years ago to assist in local schools, hospitals and parishes. We were grateful for their kind offer of mangos and sugar canes before we continued on our journey to Torit, which took almost a whole day due to poor road conditions – there were less than 100km of tarmac roads in the whole of South Sudan.

The following day, we made our way to Radio Emmanuel broadcasting house to see the work of the station. We had little idea of what we were about to see – the radio mast was knocked down by a roof lifted from a nearby building by a freak storm the day before. The mast had fallen down, broken and bent in a few places. It was a sad sight. We were devastated, for we brought funds for a new mast to boost the current transmission. Now Radio Emmanuel may not be able to broadcast at all. What added to the frustration was the timing – it happened just before the referendum, when its role in educating the public about the voting process was most crucial. We thought hard about how the mast could be salvaged. Then we realised this was not an easy job in South Sudan. Having just come out of the longest civil war in Africa, it lacked resources and skilled labour. Many things had to be imported from Kenya or Uganda (for instance, the radio mast was imported from Italy and installed with overseas help). We felt very helpless at that point, but prayed that the situation could be resolved soon.

We next headed up to the mountain village of Isohe and visited St Theresa Mission Hospital. Set up with help from Caritas Switzerland , Caritas Belgium and Merltiser Germany, it had a capacity of about 150 beds, offering free healthcare to a population of 260,000. It had women and children services, general medicine, diagnostic laboratory, and programmes tackling nutrition, HIV, TB and malaria. On our visit, the building of new operating theatres were nearly completion. We were glad to see the hospital expanding and continuing to provide valuable services in a country where 75% of South Sudanese people had no access to healthcare, and infant and antenatal mortalities were high.

We then visited the village school and were greeted by the headmistress Sister Pesquina. She was welcoming and energetic. She outlined the difficulties of running the school during the war years, as well as problems like combating gender inequality (women illiteracy rate reaching 92%), overcrowding, staff shortage and scarce resources. Yet the Diocese had persisted in providing education throughout the war, and it had served as the sole source of normality and stability for many children who were orphaned or displaced. The school had survived and fluorished to date because the Diocese believed in education as the means for channelling peace, empowering individuals especially women, improving people's livelihood, and bringing about prosperity, knowledge, and spiritual enrichment.

Kapoeta and Katire were our next destinations. In Kapoeta, we visited another mission hospital. We also saw remnants of two churches vandalised and demolished during the war. During our trip, we passed villages where armies still stationed, tanks abandoned by the roadside, and spots where ambushes and fighting were most intense. These were sombre reminders that the civil war ended only five years ago. The war had brought enormous trauma: soldiers were captured and imprisoned, homes were bombed, infrastructure was destroyed, civilians were displaced, children were orphaned. Two million people died and the same number were made homeless as a result. But South Sudanese people were prepared to put the past behind them. Everywhere we went, people welcomed  with warmth and sincerity. They had a genuine desire for peace and were excited about the upcoming referendum. The overwhelming majority favoured secession. They saw the referendum as an opportunity, a new start into the next chapter for their country. We could see in them a remarkable sense of hope, resilience and self-determination, which was infectious and uplifting.

On the way to Katire, where Father Ben celebrated mass on the first Sunday of Advent, we drove past lush forests which provided timber. South Sudan had rich natural resources such as oil,  minerals, fertile farmland and water resources from the Nile. But the civil war had disrupted the  harnessing of these resources. The revenue had not been channelled back to re-building South Sudan. The challenge for South Sudanese people after the referendum would be to find ways of  utilising these resources sustainably and intelligently, for the benefit of local communities.

The meetings with the local youth groups from Isohe and Katire were really inspiring. The Isohe group started about 10 years ago, around the same time when Project 2030 started, with similar aims and objectives. What distinguished them were their aspirations for the future in the face of adversity. We listened to one of the founding members of the Isohe group recounting their personal experience of escaping into Uganda as a child refugee. He returned to South Sudan after the war to re-build a life for himself and his country. Through various projects, including proposals to construct a multi-purpose youth centre, set up a youth vocational training programme and an agro-forestry club, the youth groups hoped to create opportunities for young people who in turn can contribute to society. Unfortunately, their hands were tied. Although there were skills and expertise amongst group members (carpentry, farming), there was limited funding and equipment. These obstacles had not dampened their desire to achieve. We were moved by their enthusiasm, and we promised to try our best in searching for any assistance available from overseas charities and aid agencies. Despite living in very different cultures and circumstances, we are now bound to the young people in South Sudan by our faith and hope for a better future for South Sudan.

We returned to the Bishop's compound in Torit, and were honoured to meet Bishop Taban, who was the retired former Bishop of Torit. He talked about his experience of imprisonment during the war, and how he campaigned for peace after that. Nowadays he divides his time between travelling around the world for the cause of South Sudan and the peace village in Kuron, where he is helping people from different tribes to recover from war and live in harmony together. A truly charismatic figure.

Registration for the referendum was well underway. Through talking to Father Mouras, the vicar general, and various people, we learnt more about South Sudan's history, politics and likely impact of secession on Africa. We were sad to hear rumours of efforts to sabbotage the referendum. For instance, there were alleged attempts to bring down the turn out to below 60% which would invalidate the referendum. We pray that the process would be open, fair and peaceful, and the outcome would truly reflect the wish of South Sudanese people.

Our nine-day journey in South Sudan went by quickly. We stopped in Nairobi to bid Bishop Akio farewell before returning to the UK. Before the trip, we knew little about South Sudan. There was  little coverage in Western media about their plight and situation. We were really privileged to see for ourselves this beautiful country and her people, and witnessed God at work there. This trip has enriched us in every way: intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We hope to reciprocate by bringing their needs and agenda to wider attention. We invite you to pray for them. May God continue to bless and protect the people of South Sudan. Please pray also for Project 2030 as we keep up our efforts in fundraising for Radio Emmanuel and helping the Isohe and Katire youth groups. Amen.      

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