, 10 July, 2020 / 10:00 PM
Members of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) ministering among the over 9,800 internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Gumbo camp in South Sudan’s Archdiocese of Juba have, through their leadership, told ACI Africa why they are concerned.
The camp is under the Delegation of St. Bakhita and the camp project’s day to day affairs handled by the office of Planning and Development.
“A major concern we have is the fear of COVID-19 cases in the IDP camp. It would be a real disaster and we are not at all prepared to face such challenges given the situation of our country and its health infrastructure,” Fr. George Shyjan who manages the finances of the Delegation and serves as the Director of the Planning and Development office told ACI Africa Friday, July 10.
“The living conditions are not really dignified,” Fr. George added in reference to the current situation of the IDPs and explained, “They live in tents made of plastic sheets and bamboo. Some households have more than 10 members and they live in a very limited space.”
The Salesian Cleric is concerned because the tents inhabited by the IDPs are so close to one another and physical distancing, an emphasized measure in efforts to minimize COVID-19 infections, is absolutely not possible, he said.
With no wall separating the camp from the local community, Fr. George said, the camp’s management is trying its best “to prevent people from the host community entering the IDP camp as well as IDP camp inmates moving out unnecessarily to risk getting the virus infection,” which is another reason why the SDB members are concerned.
As a way forward, the Indian-born Cleric told ACI Africa, “We have kept all necessary precautions from the very start of the pandemic by providing handwashing facilities in all the entry and exit points of the IDP camp.”
Other precautionary measures implemented at the camp include provision of soap and other hygiene materials to all households inside the camp, regular sensitization programs to make the IDPs aware of the dangers of the pandemic as well as preventive measures, Fr. George said.
“We are providing the midday meal for the IDP camp children from the start of the lockdown until we will be able to resume the classes to ensure the children get much needed nutrition during this time of the pandemic,” Fr. George who has ministered in South Sudan for over a decade added.
The East-Central African nation, which marked its ninth independence anniversary Thursday, July 9 has recorded at least 2,021 COVID-19 cases, 38 related deaths and 333 recoveries.
To cater for the health needs of the IDPs, members of the Caritas Sisters of Jesus Congregation, run a “small medical dispensary” within the camp, which has ten beds, “but no possibility of residential assistance, nor a test facility or respirators or other specialized equipment,” Fr. George says in a report he shared with ACI Africa July 10.
In his recent visit to the camp, the Local Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Juba, Archbishop Stephen Ameyu “encouraged the people to follow the advice of the Salesians,” Fr. George recalls in his report shared with ACI Africa.
The Archbishop blessed the IDPs “and entrusted them to the protection of God,” the Salesian Cleric adds in the report.
Besides the IDP camp hosting persons who fled the violence of the 2013-2016 civil war, SDB members in Gumbo have the responsibility of a parish, a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) center, primary and secondary schools, a women's promotion center, and a youth center.
Under the East Africa Province (AFE), members of the 161-year old Religious Institute have five communities in the country with a total of 25 members. A sixth community, Fr. George told ACI Africa, was suspended in 2016 after the civil unrest.
Other consecrated members of the Salesian Family present in the world’s youngest nation are the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA), active with 15 members in three centers and the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians (MSMHC), present with a community of four Sisters.
Others are the Sisters of the Visitation of Don Bosco (VSDB), present with a community of five members and the Caritas Sisters of Jesus (CSJ), with eight Sisters divided into two communities.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa