Sudan: JRS International director visits Darfur
19 August 2009

“These are happy, healthy, confident girls proud of themselves and keen to share their talents with us."
Mellit, 19 August 2009 JRS Sudan hosted a visit from JRS International Director Fr. Peter Balleis SJ, and Regional Director Fr. Frido Pflueger SJ from August 19-26, 2009. It was Fr. Balleis’ first visit since he took up his position in Rome.

During their visit, Fr. Balleis and Fr. Pflueger met with six women who lead the Al Amal Women’s Association through which JRS provides life skills training. Together, they discussed the direction of the partnership and ways to ensure the maximum impact for the women benefiting from the training. Both sides found the meeting useful. “These women have the strength, determination and commitment to bring the programme forward and JRS will continue to provide the necessary support and training,” said Fr. Balleis.  

JRS has been working in Mellit, North Darfur since 2006, but restructured the project this year to focus on primary education and adult literacy. The organisation is currently supporting eight primary schools in Mellit with parents-teachers-associations (PTAs), capacity building and educational materials such as construction to provision of textbooks, school kits, water storage tanks and desks. JRS also provides adult literacy in six centres across Mellit.

Witnessing change

During their visit, Fr. Balleis and Fr. Pflueger witnessed first hand how JRS’ support is changing the lives of the students and the community. In El Giada Girl’s primary school, where JRS has recently completed a two classroom block, the enthusiasm of the pupils was palpable as they received their visitors with songs and prayers. One girl read a poem about peace and made a statement for a peaceful Darfur. “These are happy, healthy, confident girls proud of themselves and keen to share their talents with us,” said Fr. Pflueger. However, in spite of the new classroom block, the school still remains basic and four classes are held either under trees or in half built classrooms. Since El Giada Girl’s School is located next to an army barracks the protection of the girls is an ongoing issue for the school, PTA and JRS.

The visit included three more primary schools where JRS has helped with construction contributions. In all of the schools the impact was visible and pupils seemed proud of their schools and keen to learn. “It is inspiring to see the future of Sudan so interested and committed to learning with confidence and grace,” said Fr. Balleis.

JRS also provides support to two primary schools and one pre-school in Abassi Camp, the only official camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mellit town although there are other IDP settlements. The situation in the camp is currently deteriorating as people have been staying there since 2004 and there is little immediate hope of them returning to their homes. Also, commitment of aid agencies and the UN to the education of IDPs is low as it is deemed a non life saving operation and is not easy to get funding for. The state of the school structures has considerably deteriorated and demands quick action.

“We are worried about further damages the rain might cause since the matting is already torn apart,” said one of the teachers.

Unfortunately the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) which keeps the mandate for the school has so far failed to provide plastic sheets and further support. JRS will now provide emergency plastic sheets whilst lobbying UNICEF to assume its responsibilities. However, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) continues to provide the schools with food and in July, due to lobbying efforts from both the Ministry of Education and JRS they also included the pre-school in the feeding programme.

Looking forward

In all areas of its intervention in Darfur, JRS closely collaborates with the Ministry of Education, whose representatives accompanied the visitors throughout. During a meeting with Sudanese education officials in El Fasher, Fr. Pflueger pointed out that the ultimate aim of the joint collaboration is to form characters of integrity through education to ensure a peaceful future. This was met with resounding agreement and support.

Despite the ongoing needs in all the schools the general atmosphere is positive and productive. Education is highly regarded and respected by the community and through JRS support the PTAs are becoming extremely engaged and active. Although there is no clear end to the ongoing conflict in sight the IDPs are sure that they will return to their homes and that the education they acquired will help them.