Education, vocational training, health-care, and consistent teaching of the values of peace and reconciliation has almost brought traditional cattle raids and revengeful killings to an end in Kuron, South Sudan.
“Peace Deserves a Chance” is a book about the life of Bishop Taban Paride who has had a major impact on the Kuron region of eastern South Sudan on the borders of Ethiopia. Tribalism that traditionally has caused hostility and violence has become quite uncommon since he established the Holy Trinity Peace Village in Kuron in 2005. Multiple programmes that consistently have taught the value of peace and cooperation have changed the region.
Today it is considered a peaceful area, although traditional and hostile cattle raiding continues on occasion. “If cattle raiders from neighbouring states invade our territory,” Bishop Taban says, “we work very hard to tell the community that they shouldn’t go there to take revenge by killing. We neither have soldiers nor police in that area, so the community has to solve the problem, and the chiefs are supporting this.”
With funding from the EU implemented through Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) the Peace Village offers a lot to the community in terms of health and educational facilities. An EU delegation of three and Jonas Halvorsen from NCA who has lived and worked in the peace village since February 2018 travelled from Juba to Kuron on a chartered MAF plane together with Wani Joseph Emmanuel who works as the village’s Alliance Officer at the coordination office in Juba.
“The purpose of coming to Kuron today,” Emmanuel begins, “is to visit the projects that our partners support so that the delegation can see with their own eyes what is happening here and the impact is has on people. Their coming is a blessing, because we can show them that what they are giving is going in the right direction.”
Monitoring the malnourished
Not far from the airstrip where a large group of Toposa women greeted the MAF plane and its passengers welcome with chanting, dancing and clapping the very uneven dirt road leads to Kuron Primary Health Centre. Among the services provided at the health centre Toposa children are monitored for malnutrition.
One by one the mothers bring their small children for measurement while the rest sit around smoking pipes and chatting. A single Toposa man overlooks the crowd of women who each have trinkets attached to their faces and differently designed scar patterns inflicted with knives on the skin of their faces, arms, backs and bellies at a very young age.
Fattening babies with peanut butter
A simple way of assessing the nutritional status of a child is by measuring the Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC), measured at the mid-point between the tip of the shoulder and the tip of the elbow using a MUAC tape. Weight, height and age are also taken into consideration and logged meticulously. At the clinic mothers of malnourished children are given packets of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), composed of peanut paste, milk, and a special mix of vitamins and minerals combined with packets of Supercereal Plus (previously CSB++) – a complementary food to breast milk containing maize, de-hulled soya beans, dried skimmed MILK POWDER, sugar, vegetable oil, and vitamin & mineral premix. This diet meets a malnourished child’s basic nutritional needs and the growth and health of the child from week to week is tangible.
New skills for cattle herders
Further into the bush the road leads to Kuron Vocational Training Centre. Young men from the community learn skills that are far from what the cattle herding Toposa are brought up with. The instructors willingly and with big smiles show the visitors how the students are taught the techniques of carpentry and joinery of sewing and tailoring, how to make bricks out of clay and cement, and how to weld. The training centre provides food, and the boys have a mattress each on the floor of the dormitory.
Next stop is St. John Paul II Nursery School. Outside the gate, a little sign commands you to only speak English inside the school. Inside a group of small children in brown uniforms greets us by singing, “We are happy to see you, we are happy to welcome you!” The children leave, for the school day is over for these little ones and the amiable teachers show us inside the empty building. Blackboards in the classrooms show how the pupils are taught the alphabet, each letter representing a word in English.
Buy, don’t steal
Further down the bumpy road the peace village’s administration and the staff residences are situated at the Kuron Village Base. Here the delegation meets and has lunch with Bishop Taban who explains the original purpose of the village. One goal was to increase the community’s water security with water from bore holes. Before they were living on milk and blood from the cows. “Education is another pillar,” Bishop Taban says. “If you can attain the tools to earn money then you can buy cows instead of stealing them.”
The next-door neighbour is St. Thomas Primary School. Several buildings in the compound with multiple classrooms has room for a great number of pupils. The delegation steps inside a few of the classrooms and each member presents themselves and the purpose of their visit. After having been given an update by teachers and administrators the party moves on. It is time to return to the aeroplane.
A vision of independence
In the air Father Emmanuel talks about the vision of the Holy Trinity Peace Village
being built on a mission of peace. The objective is to bring people of different nationalities and cultures to live together in harmony. All the activities are for the good of the people in the communities around this place.
“We want to build a community that will be independent of workers from outside. We train our own people at the vocational centre, but we have also embarked on exporting local young men to be educated, so that one day they can come back and deliver services to the community. We have one who is studying Peace and Development and others who are doing nursing and other courses in Uganda and in Sudan who are paid by Peace Village.”
Choosing MAF for several reasons
“We have been flying with MAF ever since we founded the Holy Trinity Catholic diocese of Torit,” Father Emmanuel continues. “We built the partnership long ago, because MAF offers services in terms of serving the people – especially in spreading the Good News to places that are difficult to reach by land. For instance, we were once able to drive from Juba to Kuron, but now Kuron is inaccessible by land. With MAF we are able to continue our activities. The main reason for choosing MAF over other airlines is simply because MAF is a not-for-profit faith-based organisation and not like the commercial flights!”
“I’ll give an example,” Emmanuel says. “With MAF a lower rate is given for church leaders than what we get on commercial flights. Also, we find that MAF is safer compared to commercial airlines where they don’t have the same safety procedures. They load what they want, but with MAF they always have the system which is controlled. MAF has also given Peace Village a lot, and that is why we choose MAF.”