Like Fire and Ashes

Sister Bianca Bii Shares Update from Saint Bakhita’s Orphanage

It has not been an easy several months for Sister Bianca Bii and the children who call Saint Bakhita’s Orphanage their home. Thanks to critical support from Sudan Relief Fund, and our donors who faithfully stand beside them, Sister Bianca and the children are managing in uncertain times.

In September, they were forced to leave the orphanage grounds following an outbreak of violence that swept through parts of Tombura Yambio. After spending some months at a makeshift refugee camp for the displaced, Sister Bianca brought the children back to the orphanage.

But conditions remain tense in the area and residents remain vigilant. As Sister Bianca describes, “The present situation in Tombura … is like fire and ashes. You see the ashes and you think there is no more fire; but the fire is still there.”

“Without your assistance it would have been very bad for us.”

Sister Bianca recounts how food and supplies sent by Sudan Relief Fund provided a lifeline to them during those critical months. “Without your assistance it would have been very bad for us,” she said. “Because the people (in the refugee camp) are too many and the World Food Program supplies brought to Tombura were not enough for everybody. Because you sent us food to eat, it helped us so much.”

Sister Bianca also expressed thanks for the additional resources supplied by donors in that difficult time. “The money you sent helped us buy some green vegetables, because the fields were far and we couldn’t grow anything. The food you sent by cargo and also the washing supplies helped us greatly.”

“Without those food supplies, we would not have survived with all the children.” 

While everyone is living at the orphanage again, school attendance remains inconsistent. Sister Bianca explained how some days it’s safe for children to attend and other times they don’t go. She requests prayers for peace so the children can receive regular instruction.

She added their need for medicines for the orphans. “What we really need (now) is first aid help – medicine – because the children are many, and often times they suffer from cough, flu, malaria, and small wounds to their bodies (like scratches and cuts).”

Meanwhile, Sister Bianca and the children are incredibly grateful to Sudan Relief Fund for sustaining them. She reiterated the vital role of supporters in providing lifesaving assistance to her and her 70+ children. “We are thankful to them greatly for the food – we thank them greatly – because without those food supplies, we would not have survived with all the children.”

Become a Supporter of St. Bakhita’s Orphanage Today

Global Effects of Russia-Ukraine War Intensify Crises in Africa

As all eyes turn to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, fallout from the effects of that conflict quietly compound already mounting crises in Africa and other parts of the world, now being largely forgotten.

Humanitarian Aid Drying Up

Humanitarian aid earmarked for emergencies in the Horn of Africa has been siphoned away for redistribution toward the Ukrainian effort. Charitable contribution income relied upon from individuals and organizations worldwide is also considerably lower, as donors switch their support to the current war effort in eastern Europe.

Drought and Famine Mounting

Meanwhile, drought and famine in countries of this African region are intensifying, even as food insecurity is worsened by interrupted grain shipments normally arriving through eastern European transportation routes. Those shipments have been held up since the beginning of the outbreak between Russia and Ukraine, heightening food insecurity.

“With all the attention in the media and the sort of geopolitical priorities that Ukraine comprises, the amount of additional assistance for other parts of the world….is going to be pretty constrained,” said Daniel Maxwell, Professor in Food Security at Tuft University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “We should be able to think about two problems at once. But I’m not sure there’s evidence we’re fully doing that.”

Sukaina Sharafuddin, an aid worker from Yemen, noted the disparity in public fundraising is occurring because people of donor nations “feel more connected to what’s happening in Ukraine.”

Media Coverage Lacking

Media coverage is also a factor. While 91 percent responded to a recent poll by the Christian Aid charity stating they were aware of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, only 23 percent were even aware there was a crisis in the Horn of Africa, where nations are suffering the worst drought in 40 years, putting millions in danger of starvation.

“People just don’t seem interested” in helping, said the regional spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in East Africa, Abdikarim Mohamed. He indicated that affected nations were now almost totally dependent on state-backed aid, which is traditionally minimal or in some countries like South Sudan, virtually nonexistent.

Aid organizations fear the situation will only intensify, reaching calamitous proportions before garnering world attention. “Yes, there is donor fatigue,” said Mohamed. “But the scale of the problem is now hitting levels where we need governments to try to focus on preventing these people from dying.” Read more here.

Millions in South Sudan Risk Starvation
As Humanitarian Crisis Worsens

Slashed Funding for Food Programs, Ukrainian War Effort, Intensify Hunger

Nearly 2 million people could die of starvation this year in South Sudan alone, and millions more in the Horn of Africa, as food shortages continue to worsen to disastrous levels.

Funding Cuts

With just 44 percent of its typical annual funding, cuts in the UN World Food Programme’s budget couldn’t fall at a worse time, as the organization is forced to decide how to allocate greatly reduced amounts of aid to South Sudan and other at-risk nations – in essence, determining who will eat this year, and who won’t.

Humanitarian funds continue to be diverted to the Ukrainian war effort – relief which nations like South Sudan and neighboring countries depend on, especially after two years of record floods that destroyed crops and livestock, and with the onset of this year’s devastating drought.

Supply Interference

Interruptions in the global supply of cooking oil, maize, and wheat have been felt worldwide, but especially in South Sudan where shipments typically come from Ukraine to the nation via Uganda. Due to the ongoing conflict with Russia, those crucial shipments remain suspended.

Soaring Prices

Collateral increases in food prices, up 36 percent from last year’s cost of groceries, are placing further hardship on the people of South Sudan. Many parts of the nation have been unable to grow food for the past two years because of the widespread flooding – the worst in 60 years – and dependence on food from outside sources is higher than usual.

Another report indicated the cost of sorghum and maize – typical wheat substitutes – has gone up as much as 59 percent. A corresponding 40 percent hike in fuel costs means an added $2.8 million is needed by food programs just to distribute relief. 

South Sudan now faces its worst food shortage since the country’s inception in 2011 when the new nation was coming out of years of warfare. What food supply does exist is out of reach in cost to much of the population. This comes at a time when the UN has reallocated and reduced aid, creating the life threatening scenario to spawn a catastrophic hunger crisis.

Threat of Starvation Rises

“It’s a drastic cut because it’s a third of the total people that we know require food assistance,” said Marwa Awad, WFP spokesperson in the capital city of Juba. “We had to decide who to keep assisting and who we can afford to suspend assistance from.”

However, Awad said she is “very worried” about the 1.7 million people who will be cut off from support. “They are (already) food insecure,” she noted. “If aid is not given to support them, they will slide further down the scale of hunger and reach starvation level.”

Hitting the Most Vulnerable – the Children

The slashed support will affect school food programs – one of the most important safety nets for the country’s children. For a large percentage of children, the meal they receive at school is the only one they get each day. It is a driving factor keeping many children in school, in a country with one of the worst school attendance and literacy rates in the world.

The suspension of school food programs is expected to impact 178,000 children. Reports already circulate of children dropping out to work in mines, cattle camps, or to beg on the streets from passersby who have nothing to spare themselves.

The World Food Programme stated it will now be forced to prioritize 4.5 million of the most vulnerable people in order to prevent them from dying of starvation. The most recent IPC assessment (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) forewarned 7.74 million people in South Sudan will face severe acute hunger during the lean season this year and 1.3 million children will be acutely malnourished.

Said Awad, “We need donors to be generous again. And support people here.”

Emergency Surgery Saves Mother and Baby

“Thank you for saving our lives”

Marsila was excited to find out she was going to become a mother. At 20 years old she was carrying her first child, who would be a baby boy named Almushaki.

While becoming a mother should be an exciting time, it’s also a dangerous prospect for women of South Sudan, where most pregnant women receive no prenatal care. The majority of women still endure childbirth outside of medical facilities, making South Sudan one of the most dangerous places to have a baby, and ranking its mother-infant mortality rate among the highest in the world.

During the early months of her pregnancy, Marsila suffered from a lot of morning sickness and dizziness, and she found it difficult to eat. But eventually those problems disappeared as she progressed in her.

All continued to be well until it was time for Marsila to deliver. Progress was very slow and something seemed wrong. She struggled in labor for two full days, vomiting excessively throughout the process and growing extremely weak. Marsila was taken to a health clinic who referred her to Mother of Mercy Hospital.

Mother of Mercy is the only facility of its kind for hundreds of miles, treating people who come from many hours or days away to find help. Missionary doctor and medical director, Tom Catena, has served for years as the hospital’s only surgeon, committed to helping people who have no access to needed treatment anywhere else.

By the time Marsila arrived, she was nearly unconscious. She was quickly diagnosed with a narrow pelvis that was preventing the baby’s head from crowning. An immediate emergency C-section was ordered to save them both.

Marsila was put on oxygen and ushered into surgery. The operation was successful and her baby boy was delivered by Caesarean section. Due to the extended period of stalled labor that totaled nearly three days, Baby Almushaki was placed on oxygen for several hours, but soon was able to breathe on his own.

Now mother and baby are healthy and safe. Marsila expressed her gratitude for “the people who keep this hospital open and help the needy like me and my baby.” She said, “If it were not for this hospital, we would both be dead now. Thank you for saving our lives.”

These stories are made possible by your support of Sudan Relief Fund. Thank you for partnering with us to save lives.

Would you like to pray for this work? Sign up for our email prayer group. You’ll receive weekly emails sharing important needs to pray for. Join a faith community around the globe praying to bring hope and help to suffering people in a forgotten part of the world. Click here to find out more.

The Silent Epidemic in South Sudan

One boy’s snapshot illustrates the plague of
trauma-induced mental illness no one is talking about

As told by missionary nurse and Sudan Relief Fund partner, Noeleen Loughran:

“Michael is a 24-year-old boy from the town of Yirol. He came to Rumbek at the height of the war in 2013. At that time, he was only 15 years old. Fighting had broken out, as rebels from the nearby cattle camp came to raid the town. His mother, two sisters, and a younger brother all scattered and ran through a hail of gunfire which lasted for four days. He never saw them again. And he never returned to the town. 

Michael walked for three days straight, eventually reaching Rumbek. Over time, he forgot where he had come from. He even forgot his own name. It wasn’t until two years ago that his uncle from Yirol recognized him as he was visiting. 

Michael is a mild mannered and gentle boy with a beautiful smile, but he rarely speaks. On occasion he reaches high levels of overactive behavior, which leads many locals to fear him. But eventually he will return to his current state of silence. He unloads trucks to earn money to eat, and sleeps in a doorway to rest. 

You will often see Michael under a tree at our local church. It was not until recently that I realized he was praying with his Rosary Beads. He always smiles when he sees me, but currently, as seen in this photo, he has returned to a state of silence. A local tradesman remembered him coming to Rumbek as a young boy, and narrated his story to me. 

Trauma victims like Michael often withdraw into a place of silent isolation to escape their pain.

Michael is one of many, many young men in this town suffering from severe mental trauma as a result of the war. There is no medical help of any kind for people such as him or any of the others. Victims live in a daze, going from day to day, wandering around with a black glaze in their eyes. 

While Michael is clothed, many of those in need of great help refuse to wear any clothing. In one such case a few months ago, we did manage to start a young man on medication which resulted in great improvement – so much so that he inquired four weeks after treatment why he had no clothes on. Unfortunately, he moved on and now we no longer know his whereabouts.”

Hope on the Horizon

Sudan Relief Fund is taking steps to address mental illness and support developing programs that minister to trauma victims. With your help we funded the construction of a church and community building to provide spiritual and social healing for boys who escaped the horrors of conscription as child soldiers. Together we expanded the Blue Sisters’ Women’s Center, where female victims of violence can live in a supportive and peaceful environment while recovering from traumatic experiences.

In Juba, Father Federico of St. Clare’s Home for Children opened a new Pastoral Center and has begun teaching courses in Trauma Awareness. These courses have been enthusiastically received by the community, and already people are asking for more. It’s just a start. But treating this problem on a wide scale begins with small steps in the right direction.

Would you like to support Sudan Relief Fund’s work to address victims of trauma?

Flood Food Relief

Food Shipments Send Lifeline to Victims Devastated by Record-Setting Floods

With the help of our supporters, we were able to deliver lifesaving food shipments to thousands of desperate families displaced by the country’s worst flooding disaster in sixty years.

Internally displaced people in the region of Malakal were some of the hardest hit by the massive natural disaster, which destroyed vast expanses of croplands and killed hundreds of thousands of livestock, leaving its victims with nothing.

Fred Otieno, Program Coordinator and one of our partners on the ground, helped oversee food distribution channels. “I am in Malakal Diocese to witness the third distribution of food items to the people affected by the floods,” he reported. “It’s encouraging that the Diocese procured 2,200 bags, 100 kilograms each (approximately 220 pounds per bag). The happiness of the people receiving the food is awesome!”

Other expressions of gratitude for the lifesaving intervention came from the Bishop of the Malakal Diocese, Reverend Stephen Nyodho.

“I am humbled for the support the Diocese received from Sudan Relief Fund toward the people affected by the floods. Please accept my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation on my behalf and on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Malakal. The support from Sudan Relief Fund has made a positive impact in the lives of the marginalized.”

Bishop Stephen continued to share how the support received from Sudan Relief Fund enabled the Diocese to provide food to more than 5,000 families devastated by the flood’s aftermath, which left them homeless and with no hope of finding food in the flooded regions. Victims trudged many miles to seek dry land and were reported to be eating leaves to stave off starvation.

“I am happy to convey this message of good will,” Bishop Stephen said. “A message of hope to Sudan Relief Fund and the benefactors supporting them, that the flood victims within the Diocese received. We will continue to offer (prayers) in all the parishes within the Diocese, so the good Lord may continue to bless and reward Sudan Relief Fund and the donors supporting them.”

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. -Matthew 25:35.

These stories of lives saved are made possible by your support. Thank you for partnering with us to save flood victims and many others through your gifts of compassion.

Would you like to pray for this work? Sign up for our email prayer group. You’ll receive weekly emails sharing important needs to pray for. Join a faith community around the globe praying to bring hope and help to suffering people in a forgotten part of the world. Click here to find out more.

New Bishop, Special Visitors, Highlight Month of March at Loreto Rumbek Schools

March saw many visitors and lots of activity at the Loreto Rumbek Schools. The highly anticipated ordination of Rumbek’s new bishop, Christian Carlassare, took place amid much ceremony in the city on March 25th. The event was attended by visitors and dignitaries as far away as Italy, in addition to a large contingent from all around South Sudan. He is the first bishop to be officially appointed to the area in more than ten years. Bishop Carlassare spoke to attendees with a message of forgiveness, trust, and new beginnings.

The school received the Irish Ambassador to South Sudan, Nicola Brennan, in early March. She and her aide, John Callaghan, toured the school compound and had the opportunity to see firsthand much of the work being done. School Principal, Sister Orla Treacy, has previously received honors by Irish dignitaries for her service to the school and local community.

In addition to the Irish Ambassador, members of the Mennonite Central Committee paid a visit in March. They met with students of the Peace Club and other individuals to see how their activities and efforts are being carried out at the school.

What more can be done to help students be successful? That’s a question leaders of Loreto Rumbek Schools consider continuously. In March, a feasibility study was done to assess a potential plan for a new educational center onsite for graduates. The purpose would be additional skills training to enhance job opportunities and promote graduates’ ability to become self-sustaining in their occupations.

One such successful graduate is alumna, Sophia Piath Martin. Hailing from the Class of 2015, Sophia went on to achieve the unusual occupation for a woman as a plumber for the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Rumbek. “Everything begins with education and skill-building,” she says. “Women and men have the same abilities, it is just that boys traditionally have more access to education as well as employment opportunities.”

Loreto Rumbek School for Girls is pioneering ways to shape successful futures for young women in this nation. Read Sophia’s story here.

A Cry in the Night

As told by missionary nurse, Noeleen Loughran, our partner on the ground in Rumbek.

Just around Christmas time, as I was sitting outside the Parish House as usual here at night, I found myself listening to the sound of a baby’s cry.  It was a lingering cry, and it stood out from the usual cries one hears from babies in the distance.  It bothered me, but being late at night there wasn’t much I could do.  The following night, the cry pierced my head again, and so on and so on every night.  I knew it was the same baby’s cry. 

Every night I complained to the church Fathers, “Where is that child crying from?”  Everywhere I went I could hear the cry.  It began tormenting me with frustration as to where the child was and how I couldn’t do something.  We made inquiries to no avail – no one knew the whereabouts of the child.  I felt like I was the only one who could hear the painful sound, and no one else seemed overly concerned, as it is quite regular to hear children crying here.  There were times I felt God was purposely making me hear it more than anyone else.

In my frustration one night, I could stand it no longer and I got out of bed just after midnight.  I awoke the guard at the gate and told him to open the gate. Against his advice, I proceeded with a flashlight toward the sound, knowing very well I could get bitten by the snakes that come out at night. But with trust in God I proceeded.  I knew a girl in this area called Lucky, and I woke her up to ask her if she knew where the child was.  She knew. At last I had found her.

Under the stars lay a young woman with a tearful baby wrapped in her arms – a very frail young lady. Beside her lay two more children sleeping, and beside them lay an elderly woman with her legs tied together and her arms tied together, chained to a pole.  They had no shelter of any kind, no blanket, and only a piece of plastic over four sticks to cover their heads. 

The old lady gave me a beautiful smile. I later learned that she was an elder in the church from the town of Yirol, some 3 hour’s journey by car, and they had walked to Rumbek looking for medical help.  Due to the war, the elderly lady had – as many do here – temporarily lost her sanity from the trauma, and was tied up for her own safety. 

The baby was so hungry and the mother could not produce enough milk to feed her.  Being late, both Lucky and I ran back to the parish house, and gathered up anything I could find in terms of food. We ran back to them with a few slices of bread, a box of porridge, and a half of a yogurt for the baby.  That would see them through until morning, I thought.

The next day I bought everything they needed in terms of food, and powdered baby milk for six months.  Now there was the issue of what to do for the elderly lady.  At that time, I had a doctor come from Uganda to work with trauma victims for one week, who was a psychiatrist and medical doctor.  When he came with me to see the woman, he wept. He said it was so sad to see the pain in her eyes, and yet a little help can change all that. And yet a little help can change all that. We bought her some needed medicine for her trauma, and now she sits comfortably smiling, no longer needing to be tied up or of any danger to herself.  I have not yet found somewhere for them to live, but I am working on it.

There is no longer the cry of a baby each night. I have comfort and peace now in my heart knowing she is ok.  What I have learned in this experience is that God makes us hear things that others may not hear. He makes us feel things others may not feel. And he gives us the strength and courage to do something about it.  We sometimes think God is far away and that we can’t hear him. But in truth, his voice comes to us in many ways, and we can see him in the places we least expect.  The infant – a little girl – did not have a name. And as she was born at Christmas, we have called her “Iosa,” the Irish name for Jesus.

-Blessings, Noeleen

Your support makes these life changing stories possible. Would you like to pray for this work? Sign up for our email prayer group. You’ll receive weekly emails sharing important needs to pray for. Join a faith community around the globe praying to bring hope and help to suffering people in this forgotten part of the world. Click here to find out more.

Pope Francis Set to Visit South Sudan in July

In a historic move, Pope Francis announced plans to visit South Sudan in a joint trip to include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from July 2-7 of this year.

Other dignitaries expected to accompany the Pope include Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Jim Wallace.

Pope Francis will begin his visit in the Congolese cities of Kinshasa and Goma July 2-5, then on to South Sudan’s capital city of Juba, July 5-7.

It will be the first visit by a pope to the nation of South Sudan since the country declared its sovereignty in 2011. The trip is made “at the invitation of the respective heads of state and bishops,” according to the press office of the Holy See.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister, traveled to Juba in December in anticipation of such a trip, and confirmed the Pope’s intentions to visit South Sudan in the near future.

The Pope has shown great interest in promoting peace within South Sudan, a nation that is 37% Catholic with over 4 million followers. In 2019, Pope Francis met with the country’s president and rebel leadership at the Vatican, urging a resolution to prevent civil war and secure a stable peace.

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Trying to Rise Up from the Ashes

Sister Anne Wandia wakes up every morning with a single purpose and mission – to give displaced families of the Wau refugee camps a chance to start again.

Torn from homes, villages, and peaceful agrarian lives, thousands have fled to the Wau refugee camps through the years, when violence or disaster swept through their communities without warning.