Sister solicits support for nursing school in South Sudan

February 15, 2015

Sr. Mumaw
Sr. Joan Mumaw's first prop is a map of Africa.

She uses it to show prospective supporters the location of South Sudan, a new and desperately impoverished, war-ravaged and landlocked nation in central Africa. Bordering countries include Ethiopia and Uganda.

More importantly, Sr. Mumaw, IHM, uses the map to show an area unscathed by the fighting in the latest civil war.

She is the U.S. liaison for Solidarity with South Sudan, a worldwide consortium of women’s and men’s religious orders that is trying to help the 11 million people of South Sudan build the rudiments of a functioning society. Her task is to gather support for the Catholic Health Training Institute, a Solidarity-backed school of nursing and midwifery in the city of Wau, the new country’s second largest, in its western region.

War and peace
Civil war erupted in December 2013 between the nation’s president and vice president, who represent rival tribal groups in the land east of the White Nile River — the nation's east-west dividing line. With the war far away, said Sr. Mumaw, the health training institute continued to train desperately needed health professionals.

"The whole country is not at war," Sr. Mumaw said late last fall. Warring sides in South Sudan signed a peace agreement on Feb. 1. It's unclear if it will be honored as similar deals have not been upheld in recent months.

The institute opened in 2010 and graduated its first class of 16 in 2012.

Sr. Leema Rose Savari, a member of the Holy Spirit Sisters from India, supervises examinations in October at the Catholic Health Training Institute in Wau, South Sudan.
The more than 90 students who are enrolled in its three-year programs live and study on campus. About two-thirds are in the nursing program, and nearly half of the students are women.

"These young people want to learn so they can care for their people," said Sr. Mumaw, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, Mich. "There is something powerful in them that we should nurture. We have put in place the structure and the curriculum. We have provided the staff. Now we need help to support the students in the program." It costs a little more than $7,000 per student each year.

The school's annual budget is about $630,000. It receives support from religious congregations through the International Union of Superiors General (women), the Union of Superiors General (men) and several international relief organizations, including Misean Cara, the Irish Catholic missions agency. Sr. Mumaw is looking for additional sources of support in the U.S., and she's found a champion in Bon Secours Health System in Marriottsville, Md.

"We are trying to rally support," said Camille Grippon, director of ecology and global ministries for Bon Secours. "We see this as a valuable work in progress," she said of Solidarity with South Sudan.

Grippon said several other health systems had expressed some interest in 2013 in sending representatives with Bon Secours on a fact-finding team to South Sudan this past spring. But a violent turn in the country's war-torn history forced the American group to cancel its trip.

She said the group still wants to visit when it can.

Nursing students relax outside on their campus at the Catholic Health Training Institute in South Sudan, where religious orders are training nurses and midwives for the impoverished central African country of 11 million people.
South Sudan became its own nation only three and a half years ago, breaking away from Sudan after a 21-year war. Sudan to the north is predominantly Arab, South Sudan is mainly made up of ethnic Africans. Anticipation of independence gave the solidarity group a chance to begin classroom instruction to train health care workers in 2010. The groundwork had been laid as the larger war wound down.

The prolonged war with Sudan ended in 2005 with a peace agreement, but the war had wrecked what little infrastructure the area that became South Sudan had to start with.

Solidarity with South Sudan was formed in 2006 in response to a call from the Sudan Catholic bishop's conference for help in rebuilding the church and the new nation's infrastructure. Sr. Mumaw said helping South Sudan goes to the heart of the missions of Catholic health systems and their sponsoring religious orders.

Catholic bishops of South Sudan entrusted to Solidarity with South Sudan the health institute property built in the 1980s by Misereor, the relief agency of the Catholic Church in Germany. The property had to be abandoned because of the Sudan war.

The hard road ahead

Beginning in 2008, Solidarity with South Sudan renovated the campus — squatters had pilfered its doors and window frames for firewood. The organization installed a solar-power system and dug a well for reliable electricity and a safe water supply.

South Sudan's challenges are daunting even without the most recent internal turmoil, which has forced 10 percent of its people from their homes and imperiled the 2014 harvest. There is an outbreak of cholera, and international relief agencies are warning of famine.

South Sudan has the world's highest rate of maternal death by childbirth. One of every five children dies before age 5. Illiteracy among women is 82 percent. Half of South Sudan's people live on less than $1 per day. Most people live in rural huts, and nearly everyone uses wood or charcoal to cook.

"This is one of the poorest places in the world," said Sr. Mumaw, who worked for 16 years in Uganda and South Africa earlier in her life. "Our call is to go out to the world and work for the reign of God. We need to help South Sudan build capacity and train a new generation of educated and ethical leaders so they can take charge of their own lives."

Solidarity with South Sudan is working for the day when South Sudanese will run the institute. That can begin, Sr. Mumaw said, with graduating competent nurses and midwives.

For more information on supporting the Catholic Health Training Institute, contact Sr. Mumaw at [email protected].


Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.