I recently began a new ministry in Holy Trinity Peace Village – Kuron, South Sudan. Better known as Kuron Peace Village, this model initiative in a remote part of Eastern Equatoria is a project of Catholic Emeritus Bishop Paride Taban of the Diocese of Torit. Over the past 15 years, Bishop Taban has worked to build “a community where people with different ethnicity and different religious background can live side by side with confidence in harmony and fellowship.”
Damage from recent massive floods
I arrived in early October. As the plane of the Mission Aviation Fellowship flew over the grasslands, I could see the damage from all the flooding of the recent apocalyptic rains.
The adventures began immediately. The plane became stuck on the soft shoulders of the runway as the pilot attempted to turn around. Everyone came to help push and pull, unload the plane, push and pull again, and finally a tractor pulled it out. On our ride to the village, I could see some of the flood damage up close. We almost became stuck again in the soft, muddy cotton soil that simply sticks to everything.
Upon arriving at the village, I was warmly greeted by the wonderful people living and working here. We had a great meal specially prepared for my arrival.
That very afternoon I was already at work, helping the accountant. The next day Mr. Juma took me on a hike to observe some of the damage inflicted by the two recent massive floods. On Sept. 8, the Kuron River rose over 40 feet in one night and within 18 hours was back in its bed. Two weeks later, it rose again, but only 25 feet this time.
The destruction could still be seen everywhere — in the fallen trees and smashed fencing; large tracts of shoreline had disappeared, and several buildings along with furnishings were lost. The bridge on the river was badly damaged, while a footbridge was completely destroyed. Both bridges will have to be rebuilt at great expense — they are the only way to cross the Kuron River anywhere in Eastern Equatoria.
The banks of the river have been eroded to the point that the bridge is in danger if a third flood comes. The staff have worked so hard to clear the bridge, recover the timbers and make it at least passable by people and light vehicles. I myself helped in the efforts — good physical work.
God willing, there will be no more major floods as the rains should end soon.
As we walked through a field of damaged maize, we suddenly sank up to our knees in the soft black cotton soil. I literally could not move. Juma had to pull me out, and the mud sucked my gum boots right off! I walked out of the field in my stocking feet, covered with mud!
The next day I was invited to a Toposa funeral memorial ceremony. It was a wonderful glimpse into the culture and ways of the people of this area. We sang, prayed and ate together, and some of the people danced.
What life is like in Kuron Peace Village
I am currently the only non-African here, and there is never a dull moment, as each and every day is a new experience, and I am never sure what surprise will come my way. God provides each day.
It’s a simple life. I live in a tukul (African round hut) on the compound with about 15 other Peace Village staff. I use a communal pit latrine and washroom. I wash my clothes by hand at least 3 times per week; it is impossible to stay clean here.
I have generator power in my room only from 7 to 9 p.m. I charge everything I own in those two hours. The office has solar power and internet. No cell phone coverage in this remote place. Most staff use WhatsApp to communicate through the internet. However, the connectivity is patchy. From 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m., it will be very temperamental. I have no internet in my tukul.
I sleep under a net, as malaria and typhoid are rampant. I take malaria prophylaxis every day. Communal meals are provided, and they are quite basic. Beans and rice today, and rice and beans tomorrow. Spaghetti for breakfast? Tea and coffee all day long. I would die for a piece of chocolate, but the nearest store is over 150 miles (250 km) away.
My day typically begins with a Catholic Mass at 7 a.m. The rest of the day’s schedule is a venture.
Throughout the day, many different languages are spoken: English (mostly), Arabic, Toposa, Bari, Madi and — as many staff are from Kenya and Uganda — Swahili. In fact, I often hear people switching from one language to the other, similar to the Spanglish that can sometimes be heard in the United States. Africans are marvelous at picking up languages, and it is quite common to meet children of age 13 or so who can speak four or five languages fluently.
Assisting the village’s management
Basically, in my new ministry here at Kuron Peace Village, I serve its management with collection of data, statistics, pictures and providing input on the constant reports requested by their international partners. I often discuss problems and advance planning with the village’s founder, Bishop Taban.
I accompany the department managers to various activities — from meetings, to workshops, to construction, to schools and all the other program components. I observe and take notes and later advise on what data might be good for reports. I often provide some computer training and tips to staff.
Communication is a major problem in Kuron Peace Village. Between Kuron and the nearest town of Kapoeta (160 miles), there is no cell phone or internet coverage. When the vehicles transport goods and people between these two places, we cannot communicate with the drivers sometimes for days. Under optimum conditions it takes a minimum of 8 hours to travel between the two places and even then the road is horrible.
The drivers tell me that during the rains they have spent up to three days on the road as some places are impassable. Many times a tractor has to accompany the vehicles. Just recently our tractor was on a rescue mission when it had a punctured tire.
These are some of the challenges of life in our Kuron Peace Village.