“With my faith, I can endure anything”
Sudan – is not a Christian country. In fact, 90% of the population today are Muslims. In the last few years, however, the tiny Christian flock in this Eastern Africa country has welcomed new members who have enriched the Church and Sudanese society, even if this influx has come from a tragedy obliging them to leave their countries because of an authoritarian regime.
Tens of thousands of people from Eritrea, many of whom are Christians and many Catholics, are seeking refuge in Sudan, their neighbouring country since they can no longer bear living in their own home country. “The regime in Eritrea is forcing people to serve for years, and sometimes even decades, in the army under compulsory military service. They are practically not paid and kept utterly at the mercy of the regime. It is a situation fewer and fewer people are willing to accept,” explains one of the Catholic volunteers, let’s call him Joseph to protect his identity, who takes care of the Eritrean refugees in the capital Khartoum.
Usually, Sudan is merely intended as the first stop en route to what is hoped will end in Europe. From Sudan, the journey to Libya costs approximate $2,190, a small fortune making human smugglers a little
wealthier, and from there to Italy, it will cost them just as much. But many refugees have no money to make such a trip, leaving them stuck in Sudan. Often they have to spend years in the place before they can move further. “Any idea of returning to Eritrea is unthinkable. There they will only face imprisonment or worse,” Joseph explains. “But meanwhile, life must go on. For the children especially, the years they spend here must not be wasted ones. In fact many were actually born here.”
This is just one reason why the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting a school which is attended by some 1,200 children. “The people want their children to have a solid education, and they also want them to be brought up and instructed in the Christian Faith. In this way the children will be at less risk of losing their Christian roots and at the same time they will have the possibility of a future,” explains Christine du Coudray-Wiehe, the head of ACN’s project section that deals with Sudan. “The Eritrean refugees in Sudan have a very difficult time of it. They have fled a totalitarian regime in their own home country, and ended up living in an Islamist regime. We want to stand by them and help them by supporting their children and help them to grow in the Catholic Faith.”
A dream of coming to Canada
ACN is helping to pay the cost of schoolbooks and teachers’ salaries, as well as the cost of food for the students themselves. More often than not their families have very little money to help pay for their children‘s schooling. Employers give priority to the Sudanese, so most of the Eritreans struggle to make ends meet in the black economy. They save up every possible penny in the hope of being able to pay for the journey to Europe or some other Western nation. Not one of them wants to stay on in Sudan.
“Our people are so afraid of the police,” Joseph adds. “We Christians are helpless and at their mercy.” Moreover, it is true that many of the refugees repeatedly fall victim to oppression by the police. “Sometimes the police imprison our people and will only set them free on payment of a ransom.” And he tells us how, when this happens, the people willingly put together what little money they have in order to help their brothers and sisters in need. “Our people have a strong faith. It gives them the strength to endure everything that happens here.”
Undoubtedly, these refugee families have to endure a great deal. Close to the Eritrean church in one of the poorest suburbs of the city, we visit the family of Isaias, who live in one room in a corrugated steel roofed hut. Here, in this one room, the lives of his family of five play out. “Here is where we sleep, here we cook, here we eat, here is where our children play,” the father of the family explains. They offer us lemonade and sweets, as with typical generosity they share what little they have. The father of this family served for years in the Eritrean army before deciding a few years ago to leave his homeland, because he could see no hope either for himself or for his children. “We would like to go to Canada,” he explains. Asked if he is not afraid of travelling to this distant foreign land, he responds energetically, “With my faith and my Church I am not afraid of anything!”
Aid to the Church in Need supported projects in Sudan to a total value of 633,079 dollars in 2016.
Text by Oliver Maksan, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada