I’ve been brewing a bunch of blogs lately. I have a couple partially written ones waiting for me in my drafts folder. I want to talk about food and thankfulness and cold weather and electricity. These will come.
But for now I will write about celebrations and women. And, of course, I will have the “hope” ending. Because how can you not when you are talking about celebrations and women.
Last weekend we celebrated.
After a 10 day workshop on Trauma Healing and Peacebuilding for women from throughout the diocese (the 2nd annual) (go here to see Kaitlyn’s pictures and reflections. She did a wonderful job planning and organizing this event) we had a certificate ceremony celebration. Certificates are very important here. The things we taught at the workshop, the friendships that were made over the 10 days, the food eaten, the songs shared, and the dances performed, these are also important – but not quite the same as a certificate. So as Kaitlyn and I stood in front of the women to give out the 26 certificates I sensed their excitement and anticipation for the future. Ten days or ten years, we all want to be recognized for the work we have done, for the new ideas we have come to understand. A piece of paper does somehow give us energy to go out and try to make the world a better place.
The afternoon before the certificate ceremony the women and I had had a talk. We talked about working within a culture that says that teaching alternatives to revenge is wrong or that it won’t work. Although the women were enthusiastic about peace they knew that ideas like forgiveness and reconciliation would be hard sells in their communities (they are anywhere, aren’t they?). The women knew that they would need strength and faith to make changes in their community.
A woman (a Doctor of Peace woman from Agangrial) told her story of faith: “I was a young girl during the war and my mother and father were not around so I went to live with my aunt. One day I went to get water with a large [clay] jug. I was going home when the jug fell and, as it was falling, I knew I would get into a lot of trouble if it broke. But a miracle happened. The jug did not break. It did not even crack. That event made me know that I could be protected in uncertain situations. It made me trust in that protection. As I have grown I married a good man who does not beat me. I have learned many lessons of reconciliation. I have been able to teach these to others. Even in these uncertain situations I am protected. So we need to live in faith that we can have good lives.”
The women agreed with her and took her story to heart. And the next day they were ready to go home and to be peacebuilders in their homes and communities. And we celebrated this.
The next day we were invited to another celebration. The Loreto Girls School opened in 2008 with the first class of Form 1 (Grade 9 for our North American readers) secondary students. Four years later we watched as 8 of these girls graduated. I had been proud of my 26 peacebuilding women but I couldn’t even imagine how proud the teachers at Loreto must be to see their students finish high school.
It is difficult for girls to complete high school here. Many families do not encourage their daughters to be educated, they are forced into early marriages, and there are unexpected pregnancies. During one of the graduation speeches a student talked about the challenges of coming to Loreto where many students from various sub-tribes lived and studied together. There was a lot of conflict and she talked about how in the first month of the school some of the students threatened to leave, rather than studying with “those” people. She said, “By staying at Loreto, we have learned about peace. We have learned how to be with people who are different than us.”
So last weekend my hope gauge was filled (which needs to happen every once in awhile) with the words and actions of some beautiful South Sudanese women.