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Women selling peanut butter last May at the market in Yambio, South Sudan.

 

Last week, South Sudan reported its first four cases of COVID-19. In a peculiar way, South Sudanese may be mentally prepared for this coronavirus. They have suffered for generations. From the moment of birth to the end of their lives, they carry life on the right shoulder and death on the left. They never are quite sure which shoulder will dominate.

Very few people have grown up with more than one full meal a day. Malnutrition, hunger, and famine are a way of life. Malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, meningitis, HIV and a whole host of other diseases assail them throughout their lives.

Floods, locusts, and drought frequently ravage their subsistence farming. On top of this, they have had to deal with war and conflict, violence and viciousness for many generations. It is said that 70 percent of the women in the displaced persons camps have been abused and raped. Domestic violence is all too common. And let us not forget the poor leadership and corruption, which has caused much of the suffering.

But in spite of this bleak picture, these South Sudanese persevere. They are tough. They don’t despair. They keep going. They prefer the right shoulder, but if the left shoulder should dominate, they accept and move on.

When given the chance they will enjoy life to the fullest, despite all the difficulties. They pray on their knees, and their faith is deep and engrained. Like St. Paul, theirs is a life full of goodness and bad (2 Cor. 11:23-27). Their toughness allows them to deal with both, come what may.

So this coronavirus has now arrived at our doorstep. As in the whole world, it dominates. The South Sudanese meet this trial like they have met the challenge of so many troubles throughout their lives. They will find a way to survive. They will keep their faith. I admire that and am honored to be here with them.

Gabe Hurrish Gabe Hurrish
Gabe Hurrish is a Maryknoll lay missioner working as the Projects Officer for Solidarity with South Sudan in Juba, South Sudan. His responsibilities include advocacy, administration and finance. He previously taught at the Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio, South Sudan.