By Sister Winnie Njuguna
As a student at the University of West Indies, I listened to a talk given by Sister Marylin Lacey to Mercy Associates in Jamaica. As she spoke about her ministry of educating South Sudanese girls, I felt called to serve in a similar way.
A year and a half later, I can say this has been a challenging experience. But God has always been truly present, even in moments of difficulty. The South Sudanese have lived through decades of war, making them a traumatized people. I have learned to be patient, tolerant and forgiving. Every morning, I wake up and let God be the compass that guides me.
I minister in a Catholic health training institute that trains women and men from all the dioceses of Sudan and South Sudan to serve as nurses and midwives. As the administrator of the institute, I bring Mercy compassion to the students and staff.
My office also is responsible for educating the staff and students about living sustainably. We plant trees because half of the country is facing deforestation, and have begun to raise goats for meat. We discuss food security and encourage students to grow what they eat and eat what they grow. I also raise awareness about women’s issues, including gender-based violence. In my role, I also manage our fundraising to protect against corruption and mismanagement of funds.
I live in a community with four members from across the globe. Sister Bindu, who is from India, is the principal; Sister Brygida is from Poland and serves as the college counsellor; and our chaplain, Father David, is Cameroonian.
My community is a part of a project led by the Conference of Bishops in Sudan and South Sudan and managed by Solidarity with South Sudan, a brainchild of the Conference of Major Superiors. The group includes priests, brothers and sisters from different congregations around the world. We assemble yearly to discuss the challenges that threaten our ministries of education, agriculture, health, retreats and Catechist training.
The people of this country need stability, peace and development. Many NGOs are trying their best to educate and heal the people, but the government needs to be more involved in creating a long-term solution.
Many NGOs are leaving the country due to donor fatigue and fear of escalating violence. People have been killed and wounded and hundreds displaced. There has been a withdrawal of humanitarian support and protection of civilians from internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Many of those who do return to their homes, come back to find no food, no houses, no schools and no medical facilities.
We need more religious people to come and live among the South Sudanese to give them hope. There also is a need for rural development to enable people to farm and establish small businesses.
Young girls need protection from forced marriages, and proper primary and secondary schools if they are to stand on their own feet.
I am where God is needed at this time. I am God’s feet, hands and heart to care for His people. I look forward to having many more happy days with my students before my contract expires in 2024. They give me life and make my Mercy charism alive each day.