Moses Sunday Deng is brought to the dispensary in a delirious state … he murmurs to himself and shivers uncontrollably. Sr. Miriam puts him on drips and watches his slow recovery. At the age of 16, Deng has never been to school. There never was a day in his life when he ate more than one meal. He can recall times when he ate only 3 times a week!
Deng is one of the many thousands of young people caught up in the senseless war of South Sudan. His parents were killed in the fighting and he was rescued from a village that was burned down by a distant relative. Life is a luxury he struggles to afford!
The Salesians of Don Bosco and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians took a daring step to pitch their tent among Deng’s people. The place is Tonj, the very center of war-torn South Sudan. The Salesians first arrived in 1982 and began a flourishing mission until 1986 when circumstances compelled them to leave.
Fr. James Pulickal who was part of this group was taken prisoner by some misguided rebel soldiers. They made him trek with the rebel army in the wilderness for 18 long months. It was only through the intervention of top church leaders that he was released. But Fr. James or Jim as they call him, had put these memories behind him, with the determination to returned back to ‘his place among his people’. The mission was reopened in 2000 under his leadership
The people of Tonj are largely from the Dinka, Jur and Bongo tribes of South Sudan. The twenty-year war has all but destroyed everything, including their determination to go on living. Uncertainty and fear dog every aspect of their lives. They spend their time looking after their cattle and their fields. Cattle are their wealth and their social life revolves around their cattle camps.
The struggle continues
The return of the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA) have given the people a new lease of life. The school has a network of informal classes that reaches out to educate children in remote villages. A dispensary caters to the needs of the sick. Regular church services keep the people united and hopeful. Agriculture is encouraged through meager incentives.All in all, this attempt to reinvigorate the distressed and war-torn people of Tonj is an extremely difficult task, especially since the place is cut off from the rest of the world: the postal system does not exist, there are no public vehicles, shopping centers and electricity are unheard of there is no common currency….
…Life is all one has!