Journeying with youth in South Sudan

By Diana Karua

Loyola Secondary School students plant and protect a mango tree.

Loyola Secondary School students plant and protect a mango tree.
(Photo: Noelle Fitzpatrick)

Tremendous efforts toward fostering the new Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Society of Jesus have been made by the Jesuit Province of Eastern Africa. One of the programs supported by the Province illustrates this especially well: Sowing Seeds for Social Transformation. Sowing Seeds is an initiative of the Province of Eastern Africa that seeks to accompany people in South Sudan in the midst of great upheaval, violence and civil war and to empower them with transformative education and livelihood training.

Projects within the Sowing Seeds program are multifaceted, just like the UAPs. Although they incorporate all four UAPs in various ways, the focus here will be on how they address the apostolic preference “journeying with youth.” Through projects aimed at youth, problems of vulnerability are reduced – such as boys being recruited into armed militias or girls being pressured into early marriage.

In the city of Wau, all students at Loyola Secondary School are beneficiaries of a Sowing Seeds feeding program. Some students also receive scholarships and school materials to enable their attendance at Loyola. Furthermore, all staff benefit from specialized capacity strengthening training under Sowing Seeds. Recently Loyola teachers underwent training in Ignatian leadership and basic psychosocial support. The ultimate aim of such training is to equip staff with skills to provide a conducive learning environment for the students. Now, for four consecutive years, Loyola has been the best performing school in its state. Similar training sessions have been conducted elsewhere in South Sudan.

The Multi-Educational and Agricultural Jesuit Institute of South Sudan (MAJIS) provides basic training in horticulture and animal husbandry for communities in and around the remote village of Akol Jal, in Rumbek county. Most of the participants in this Sowing Seeds project are young women. They learn vegetable gardening, livestock rearing, beekeeping and agroforestry, and also how to market and sell their produce. Due to the fact that Rumbek is an intra-clan conflict-prone area, special emphasis is placed on integrating peacebuilding initiatives with daily farming lessons. Working in conjunction with St Teresa Parish, forums for youth interaction have been created to enable them to share ideas and skills. For example, in June 2019 the Ignite Youth Conference brought together over 400 young people to share their faith, engage in sports for peace, receive ongoing spiritual accompaniment, and discuss ways of improving their lives.

Also in Rumbek, St Peter’s Ecological Training Centre equips youth with basic computer skills and with training in electrical and solar installation, construction, water and sanitation. After the training, some graduates opt to initiate their own businesses while others get employment with government and non-government agencies.

Near Rumbrek, at Mazzolari Teachers College (MTC) in Cueibet, another Sowing Seeds initiative endeavours to address the need for trained teachers. A majority of the teachers in primary and secondary schools in Cueibet are youth who are not trained. At MTC untrained teachers can enroll in a part-time, in-service program on weekends and during school holidays. Additionally, all MTC students are trained in basic child safeguarding and computer skills.

Overall, the Sowing Seeds for Social Transformation program is a strong avenue for peacebuilding and livelihood improvement in South Sudan. Through this program, the Jesuit Eastern Africa Province hopes to create a platform for social transformation and integral human development. There is already cause for hope, as evidenced by the increased enrollment of local youth, especially girls, into the different program areas.