, 28 August, 2020 / 11:20 PM
In an array of challenges that Missionaries in South Sudan face, poor transport structures in the East-Central African country is one of the biggest headaches, hindering access to parishes and outstations tucked in the remotest parts of the nine-year-old country.
Transport by public means is both expensive and dangerous, according to members of the Society of Missionaries of Mary Immaculate (MMI) in South Sudan, who say that apart from fleecing commuters, the buses are usually overloaded with passengers and luggage, putting the lives of people at risk.
It is for this reason that MMI members have initiated in an unusual apostolate in the country, providing buses to transport people cheaply from urban centres to the interior villages, specifically within the territory covered by South Sudan’s Diocese of Wau.
Last month, Mother Virgin Transport Service was launched and inaugurated at Mary Immaculate Parish in the Diocese of Wau in an occasion attended and lauded by community leaders, politicians, men and women religious and all well-wishers of MMI.
In an interview with ACI Africa at the MMI’s Juba-based Head Office of the Central Africa Province, the Provincial, Fr. Joseph William Parthi, said that the project was inspired by the need to connect parishes, especially those in the interior villages, off Wau town.
“We have about four new buses, each with a capacity of 30 passenger seats. We have set our vehicles with the minimal fare; the charges are affordable so that people can travel from Wau to Gogrial, Awiel, Nyamlel and Akon,” Fr. Parthi told ACI Africa Wednesday, August 26.
Ministering to close to two million (1,725,500) people across eight parishes of Wau Diocese, MMI members experience difficulties accessing some of the outstations due to unavailability of reliable means of transport.
Fr. Parthi who is in charge of Ethiopia, Central Africa and South Sudan told ACI Africa, “We thought about bringing this service among the people especially those who are living in the bushes to be able to bring to the city whatever they cultivate and sell for them to maintain their family livelihoods.”
According to the Indian-born Cleric, the people of Wau and surrounding locations travel by pickups and land cruisers and people are highly overcharged and vehicles overloaded.
A pickup or land cruiser designed to be occupied by six or seven passengers sometimes ferries 25 people who dish out a tidy sum for the poor transport services.
“Each person pays about 5,000 South Sudanese pounds ($20) on the available pickups and land cruisers but in our new transport service we charge only 2,500 South Sudanese pounds ($10) and it has made it easier for the people to travel,” Fr. Parthi said.
With the travels affected by COVID-19 restrictions on movements, the Cleric said, vehicles now move twice or thrice a week according to the number of people available to travel to the interior villages.
“COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult to travel by bus and people aren’t traveling a lot not just because of the pandemic but because the roads are not in good conditions during this rainy season,” Fr. Parthi said.
The Mother Virgin Transport Service is not a profit-making venture, according to the MMI leader who explained that the minimal returns on the project, managed by 35 Priests and 9 Deacons in South Sudan is expected to be directed to other Church projects in the country.
“We will use the money generated from transport buses to educate the children because we see in the Diocese of Wau and Juba, we have minimum schools and minimum teachers but we have more children,” Fr. Parthi told ACI Africa and added, “We use the money collected from that transport to train teachers to educate the children.”
Though funding of MMI’s pastoral, social service and peace building and developmental activities like schools and colleges are mostly from the Congregation’s foundation in India, this particular transport service initiative is being realized through a bank loan.
Speaking to ACI Africa in South Sudan’s capital Juba, Fr. Parthi disclosed, “We got a loan from the bank to provide this transport service to the people of South Sudan. We will have to pay that loan back again to the banks. In this project, we have used a lot of money. Each was about US$30,000.00.”
Members of MMI are spread across four Provinces headquartered in different countries – India Province in India, Central African Province in South Sudan, East African Province in Tanzania and Vice province in Brazil.
MMI members in South Sudan and those in Ethiopia and the Central African Republic (CAR) fall under the Central Africa Province, which is headquartered in Juba.
The priorities of MMI members who are present in 12 countries include pastoral activities, educational and social work with women, children and youth.
In South Sudan, developmental services of MMI Abba Father Mission runs from awareness programs, food distribution, seeds and tools distribution, educational sponsorship, street children programs besides empowering women in skill training and peacebuilding.
In their activity document seen by ACI Africa, the Provincial states that in their service in South Sudan, MMI members organize awareness programs independently and in collaboration with other organizations in the country.
“All awareness programs are oriented towards peace and reconciliation, importance and necessity of education, hard work for livelihood and prosperity, being conscious of one’s duties and responsibilities and respect for human life,” MMI leadership states in the document.
“Considering this miserable and painful situation of the people, we the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, struggle hard to gather food materials for these dying people and distribute to thousands,” MMI leadership has indicated in reference to the present context in many parts of South Sudan.
The leadership adds, “We the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate took notice of families numbering 6,400 and supplied them with different types of seed.”
During the August 26 interview with ACI Africa, the Provincial, Fr. Parthi said, “We are happy to serve in South Sudan first of all and we see a lot of difficulties in this young nation especially with conflict where one doesn’t know what happens next.”
One of the Challenges in South Sudan, he said, “is traveling by road especially during the rainy season to reach the interior to celebrate sacraments and check schools.”
“My message to South Sudanese is to encourage missionaries considering that they come from far places and serve where they don’t know anything,” Fr. Parthi said, and added, “The missionaries should be considered as part of this community and not as foreigners or strangers.”
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