Nuba: Education for Life
I had been walking for almost three hours, up and down on steep, rocky paths, aided by the light of the full moon. The sun was just coming up at the horizon, bringing back to life the mountain's top. The vast plain was barely visible in the distance, still covered with the morning mist. With my two companions, we started going down a ridge, and I suddenly saw, a few hundred metres ahead, the destination of our long walk. On a levelled ground as big as a football field, protected by an outcrop of huge rocks, there was the primary school of Kachama. It was already a bee hive of activities, with hundreds of children streaming in and getting ready for the roll call.
Further on, the ground was going down steeply for some few hundred metres and then slowly levelling off. In the distance, probably not more than four kilometres away, some iron sheet roofing was reflecting the sun rays.
"That is Heiban" one of my companions indicated, answering my questioning look. Heiban; the second town by size, after Kadugli, still under the control of the government forces in the Nuba Mountains. But the school is a "liberated area" under the control of the SPLA.
It was not long before the last Christmas, and on the only smooth wall - most of the school buildings were made with rocks, timber and thatched with dry grass - somebody had painted a Virgin Mary in an attitude of prayer, next to a stylised flower garden with Arabic letters proclaiming that "church unites all people, and all people are children of God". The students present that morning turned out to be 717. The school is free, the pupils come walking for an hour or so, and hungry, because the only daily meal they get is in the late afternoon. The teachers were 18, all volunteers, most of them catechists or responsible for communities of different Christian denominations in the surrounding villages, all of them without any training in teaching.
As I passed from class to class, questioned the teachers and the pupils and saw the poverty of their means, I was impressed by their enthusiasm for learning and their endurance in front of the difficulties. I found pupils of different Christian denominations, Muslims and Traditionalists. Once more, I realised how false was the standard explanation that the war in Sudan is due to religious differences, and I admired the wisdom and the tolerance of the teachers. They had no formal training, yet had attended with profit that difficult Teachers Training College that is life. In a world where conflict situations are so often given a distinctly religious dimension, with warring parties identified simply according to their faith (Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Sikhs and Hindus in Punjab; Jews and Muslims in the Middle East; Christians and Muslims in Sudan), and where one might be forgiven for thinking that humankind would be better off without any religion, here religion was a motivation for harmony and unity.
I asked Zakaria Noh, the head-teacher, a tall and slim man in his 30s: " Who had the initiative of stating this school?" He answered: " We, the elders of the community, wanted our children to be educated. Traditionally, it is the responsibility of every adult in the community to educate the children. I can reprimand the son of another villager if I see him doing something wrong, and his father will stand by me. We are all interested in seeing our children progress. So we decided that anybody who could teach something should come forward and put his knowledge at the service of the community".
Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs or non-believers, no matter what flag we sail the sea of life under, it is important that we all learn some elementary rules of good seamanship - which is precisely what I felt it was taught in that school lost up in the Nuba Mountains. There were only a few textbooks the teachers had to share, no exercise books and pencils, no blackboard and chalk but a surface of smooth dry mud and a piece of charcoal, yet the atmosphere was of respect and understanding.
It has been said that: "The instructed pupil thinks what he is told to think. The socialised pupil thinks what others think. The evangelised pupil comes to think what the evangelist thinks. The indoctrinated pupil does not think at all. The educated pupil thinks for himself." I thought those Nuba pupils were lucky to have dedicated volunteer teachers who might not know much of the English language they were trying to teach, but could teach with their life, their love for freedom and justice, their determination to be respected as human beings and their commitment to the good of the community.
I suspect that in the expensive and exclusive Nairobi private schools, where students are trained to compete among themselves and achieve the highest possible marks, not many teachers are able to communicate to their pupils these values.
Ignorance has devastating consequences. Illiteracy is nowadays a condition of inferiority to which no person should be condemned. While every area of ignorance (mathematics, science, technology and so on) bears its own particular cost, the cost of a poor education in human (and religious as part of the human) values is horrendous. Would the intolerance, bigotry and hatred which has spawned murder, atrocity and destruction all across the world, from Belfast to Tehran, from Oklahoma to Jerusalem or from Algeria to Burma, have happened if education had adequately extended to human values?
At 11 am, the pupils left. "If the government Antonov bomber comes, it comes always at around midday - explained Zakaria - and we do not want to offer them an easy target. The pupils are safer in their homes, scattered all over the mountains." Those who for that morning were ready to take the risk - about 200 pupils, a handful of teachers and some 50 adults from the nearby homes - stayed behind for the celebration of Mass. I felt privileged to be "their father".
Only a few days before, I had heard a high-ranking civil servant of a foreign country say in Nairobi that; "Africans are easily attracted to Christianity because of their unsophisticated education". As an afterthought, to make sure he would be properly understood, he added that, "yes, they are easily duped with religious stories because they are ignorant". The gentlemen in question, in spite of the high self esteem, could hardly distinguish between scientific knowledge and education for human values.
Himself a victim of an education without values, he could have profited by attending a few days of school in the Nuba Mountains.
Renato Kizito Sesana
Khartoum: Catholic Club Confiscated
The Government of Sudan confiscated the Catholic Club of Khartoum. The order, signed on December 6th, 1997 and notified to the Catholic Church on December 22nd, was implemented on December 31st, 1997.
The Catholic Club, one of the many set up by various organisations and associations, was built in the early sixties at the outskirts of Khartoum on the area allotted to them by the town planners for social, sports and cultural activities. For decades the Catholic Club played host to various activities of the Catholic Community. Its basketball team was one of the best in Sudan and supplied the national team with many outstanding players. During the eighties the Club became the favourite study place for the many students who had no facilities at home.
In May 1992 some agents of the Security stormed into the club, arrested the young people studying in the premises and took them to detention, confiscated Ls 60,000 from the Club safe and the 22 type writers of the typist school. The youth were released a day later without being charged of any crime; the money and the typewriters were never returned. At various times the lawyer of the Catholic Church, Mr. Abel Alier, tried in vain to know the justification of the government action, including whether there were any criminal charges against the Church. Though no written notice to close the club was ever served, no use of it was permitted, not even on the occasion of the visit of H.H. Pope John Paul II to Khartoum (February 10th, 1993).
In January 1996, when an automatic renewal of the lease of the land was expected, as has been the normal practice with long term leases, the Catholic Church was told that the lease would not be renewed. The reason, verbally given, was "public need".
On April 2nd, 1996, a letter from a senior official of a government department requested the Church to let the department use the Club as a block of offices, promising to "cooperate to solve the problems ... for the benefit of both sides".
On 21st September 1996, engineers presenting themselves as representatives of the Ministry of Social Planning, entered the Catholic Club premises and told the keeper that the Club would be taken over in two days time. They did not produce any letter of authorisation but said the it had been sent to the authorities of the Catholic Church. Needless to say, the letter was never received.
On October 10th 1996, H.G. Gabriel Zubeir Wako, Archbishop of Khartoum, sent a memorandum on the subject of the Catholic Club to the Minister of Social Planning with the conditions to be considered before the agreement of the nationalisation of the Catholic Club could be reached. The Archbishop asked:
1) A judgement on the causes of the forced closure of the Club in 1992 and the reasons for preventing its operation during the last 4 years;
2) A written statement notifying of the public need which justifies the non renewal of the leases to the Catholic Club and to the other Clubs of the area;
3) Compensation for the buildings and other assets of the Club;
4) A new land of the same area to build a new club.
In December 1997 the answer came in the form of a letter of confiscation. The year 1997 started with the demolition of various "illegal" Catholic centres and schools; it ended with the destruction of a long standing and "legal" structure of the Catholic Church.
(Comboni Press, Rome)
SUDAN CATHOLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
Bethany House, P. O. Box 21202, Nairobi, Kenya
tel. +254.2.562247 or 569130, fax 566668
For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.562247 - fax +254.2.566668 - e-mail: SCIO@MAF.Org