Sr. Orla Treacy is a Loreto Sister from Bray, Co.Wicklow. Here she reflects on her work over the past ten years in South Sudan. This article was written for the Irish Messenger Magazine March 2017.
”Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you were born somewhere else? This has been a question I’ve asked myself many times. I have given thanks so often for being born in Ireland, for being born into a supportive and happy family; into a country that values education, justice and human rights, and boasts of having two female presidents, where women are given the same rights as men. I know Ireland isn’t perfect, but from where I am sitting today it looks pretty good.
I am a Loreto Sister and for the past ten years I have been living and working in South Sudan. When we (the Loreto Sisters) came here in 2006, the country was part of Sudan, but in 2011 we voted overwhelmingly for independence and today the Republic of South Sudan is five years old. A typical Irish five year old is full of wonder, hope and adventure as they start school, meeting new friends and exploring new paths. Our five year old country is bleeding, hurting, starving and struggling. Life is not easy for people in South Sudan. Life is not easy for the women of South Sudan.
Reality in the Country
South Sudan is a country the size of France, with a population of approximately twelve million people. Two and a half million people, that is almost one in five, are displaced and fleeing violence and hunger. One million people over the past few months have become refugees in neighbouring countries. Over forty per cent of the entire population need food support. The rate of inflation has increased by 700% in the past twelve months. People cannot afford to buy food or medicine.
As Loreto Sisters, we were invited by the Bishop of Rumbek to open a girls’ boarding secondary school. Over ten years later we have 201 girls attending from all over the country, a primary school for girls and boys from our local community and a clinic to serve the health needs of our children and their families.
Education in South Sudan for Women
Education here has always been a privilege given to few people. Today it has improved somewhat and the literacy rate stands at about twenty per cent nationally. However, in our local community, fewer than one per cent of women in my age bracket (29 – 49 years old) are literate. The struggle to improve standards and access to education persists.
Only thirty seven per cent of girls attend primary school; of those only seven per cent will complete it. Nationally only two per cent of girls go to secondary school and fewer than that finish it. A fifteen year old girl is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete secondary education.
In the area of health, thirty three per cent of pregnant mothers here are malnourished. One in ten babies here will die before the age of three months.
Returning to the sentiment of my question at the beginning of this article, if I were born in South Sudan would I be alive today? Would I have survived the early years of childhood? Would I be among the few girls that go to primary school or, more miraculously, attend secondary school? Would I have been married young? Would I have survived childbirth? Where would I be today?
These are the realities that our students and graduates have to overcome in their young lives. Today we have eighty graduates from our secondary school and nearly seventy per cent of them are pursuing further studies. They dare to dream, to fight the odds and to hope for, and work towards, a greater future for South Sudan and for the women residing there”.