They built sixty primary schools spread over all the dioceses of South Sudan to give approximately 13,500 children access to education. Now they are launching a new agricultural project, to teach people how to cultivate their land which is rich and fertile. All this is the work of two Salesian missionaries in South Sudan, Fr Vincenzo Donati and the Salesian Brother James Comino, who recently gave an interview to ANS.
Bro. Comino, tell us how the schools project started
There were many difficulties at the beginning. Many people were sceptical, but the then Rector Major, Fr Pascual Chávez, gave us the green light to start in 2013. This summer, at the meeting of the young people in Colle Don Bosco, we had the pleasure of informing him personally that sixty schools had been opened.
We thought of building schools because when South Sudan became independent in 2011 it had been reduced to a pile of rubble. All infrastructure, hospitals, churches, schools and social works had been almost totally destroyed. Given the inability of the government to solve the problem we thought that the best way to help this fledgling nation was by education, which is the basis of everything. At the time of independence, 70% of the children did not go school.
We decided on one plan for all the schools – four classrooms and an office for the teachers. We asked the local communities to provide the school furnishings. We received great help from South Korea, where I had been a missionary for thirty years. The Mission Office took our project to heart and launched a campaign to help. The programme is still going on to this day. Sixty schools have been built. They are not owned by the Salesian Congregation but are managed directly by the dioceses.
How does the schools project work?
We carry out inspections and with the help of two experts we decide where a new school is needed. The materials – iron, wood and concrete – come from Uganda and it takes about four months to build a school. Right now 13,500 children attend our schools and in them we promote the spirit of Don Bosco.
Have you any plans for the future?
One of the big needs in South Sudan is agriculture. 80% of vegetables, fruit and cereals are imported from Uganda where there is the same type of land that we have in the south. So we thought that if young people learn to work the land, by the time they grow up it will be bearing fruit. The project we are starting this year is to open an Agricultural School. I came here to Italy to try to find resources and agricultural tools, and perhaps one or two agricultural experts who might come to South Sudan to do an analysis of the soil, etc.
The government of South Sudan has given us 2500 hectares to start the agricultural school. It could become a model to show the people that their land is rich and can provide a lot of food. An appeal from the United Nations a few months ago warned that in South Sudan about four million people are at risk of hunger.
It is a question of creating a mindset to entice people to cultivate the land. It could also be a great response to those who are driven by hunger to emigrate, by making them independent and aware that they can cultivate the land and meet their food needs without having to look elsewhere. The food is there, under their feet.