It is pretty pointless doing some naive political analysis when visiting some of the poorest schools in the world, containing some of the poorest children in the world. Analysis of causes does nothing to help the children standing in front of you at that moment.
This morning we visited the diocesan offices in Khartoum-Omdurman before being taken off to visit three schools. The first was a Catholic primary school in a former shanty town on the outskirts of the city. 480 children occupy an area little larger than the size of a football pitch penalty area. Arranged in 7 or 8 classes – and ranging in age from 7 to 18 – we went into tiny classrooms of up to 70 children. The only furniture apart from a blackboard was the metal benches on which the children sat squashed against each other.
How is anyone supposed to learn anything in conditions like this?
As we left each class the children sang for us. There was big optimism, but how well placed it is is a mystery. What was remarkable about the school was the commitment of the staff. Most of these children have been both displaced and traumatised by war – first in Darfur, later (and currently) in the Nuba Mountains. The staff includes graduates, who might get better-paid jobs elsewhere, giving up a year or two to volunteer to teach and care for these children. “They cannot give up on their own people…”
We moved on to another church-run primary school and its associated secondary school, now suffering because so many students have been forced to move to Southern Sudan. We heard an impassioned plea from a headmistress that we should pray for them and do what we could to make their plight known. No self-pity – just realism and hope and a determination to see this through.
Back at the diocesan offices we met women who organise and lead literacy courses for adults, mainly through the Mothers Union. These were impressive and determined women who taught us more about the predicament of being African rather than Arab in Sudan – especially in relation to jobs, security and dignity. I will say more on my return to England, once I have thought it through. What is clear, though, is that diocesan links such as that between Bradford and Sudan (and, in my earlier role, between Southwark and Zimbabwe) are hugely important – they build relationship, keep stories alive, make sure that no one is alone.
Like the convergence of the Blue and White Nile (see the photo), we flow together from different directions, but cannot then be separated as we move forwards together into an unknown world.
It also to be noted, however, that we have met nothing other than courtesy and welcome out on the streets, in the shops, and so on.
The learning continues.