|The people of God in South Sudan are being cautioned against the “culture of silence” in the face of abuses against children and vulnerable adults.
In an interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Jacinta Ondeng spoke about the training on safeguarding that she had been facilitating under the auspices of Solidarity with South Sudan (SSS), an initiative of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG), established in response to a request from the members of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC).
“Safeguarding is very important from the Church perspective because we believe in the preservation of human dignity,” Sr. Ondeng said during the September 15 interview in Juba, where she had just returned after completing the child safeguarding training, first in the Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio (CDTY), and later in the Catholic Diocese of Wau.
The Nairobi-based member of the Congregation of School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) underscored the need to be vocal against abuses, saying, “Abuses are rampant in the community. We need everybody to hear this message from the government officials, teachers, medical personnel, children, and those who work in offices because all these people belong to the society.”
She went on to recall the interactions she had with participants during the September 4-8 and September 11-15 training in CDTY and Wau Dioceses respectively, organized under the theme, “Safeguarding of Children and Vulnerable Adults: Catholic Church’s Perspective”.
Participants, who included students and members of staff at the Yambio-based Solidarity Teacher Training College (STTC) and the Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI) in Wau, were encouraged to be “the voice of the voiceless”, Sr. Ondeng recalled.
During the training, the Kenyan SSND said she had emphasized the need “to move out of the culture of silence, zipping our mouths and not being able to speak even when we know we need to speak out.”
“I challenged the participants to find ways they can condemn abuses in society and talk about the effects of abuses wherever they are in their small worlds without zipping their mouths,” Sr. Ondeng, who serves as Coordinator of Safeguarding activities and Director of Safeguarding Initiatives at the Nairobi-based Tangaza University College (TUC) told ACI Africa.
She continued, “The issue of abuse in itself is sinful and evil and destroys the human person. So, we were looking at abuses in terms of sexual abuse, which can happen within the church and society, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect as a form of abuse.”
“In South Sudan, we need to do a lot in the field of child soldiers, which is in itself an aspect of abuse of children,” Sr. Ondeng said, and explained, “Children are not supposed to be fighting for the government or whoever is taking them to fight for them. Children are meant to be in school, their rights are meant to be protected.”
She recalled the safeguarding training initiative, and described the invitation from the SSS Executive Director, Fr. Jim Greene, to facilitate the workshops as “a nice surprise”.
“The training was structured. We had training for students and for staff of Solidarity with South Sudan on issues of protection of children and vulnerable adults,” she said about the participants, who included 180 students and 15 staff member in the CDTY, and in Wau, 150 Students and 35 members of staff.
The training focused on fostering an understanding of “safeguarding in the perspective of the Church,” Sr. Ondeng said, adding in reference to safeguarding apostolate, “We know it is part of the mission for which the Church is involved. We had to enlighten people on why the Church has to get itself involved in this ministry.”
“We dealt with the definition of terminologies like safeguarding, protection, child, childhood, and vulnerable adult,” she further said, and continued, “We are passing this message, which Pope Francis himself has called us to do as part of the mission for the Church; to ensure that everybody is protected from abuse.”
She underscored the need for the people of God to be part of the safeguarding apostolate, saying, “The Church has taken this very seriously globally, not only in Africa, to ensure that we train everybody on issues of safeguarding, abuses, and to ensure everybody living in this world … is protected from any form of abuse.”
“Everybody needs to be sensitized about safeguarding and why it is important in society,” Sr. Ondeng emphasized, adding, “Within the Church, we are aiming at training everyone: Christians, Clergy, (women and men) Religious, and Bishops, to create a way in which sensitization can be given to everybody.”
In another interview with ACI Africa on September 16, SSS Executive Director said that Yambio-based STTC and CHTI in Wau were targeted for the safeguarding training because the duo “have large numbers of resident students.”
The invitation extended to Sr. Ondeng to facilitate the safeguarding workshops was “in line with our safeguarding policy which we have had in place since 2013,” Fr. Greene said, and added, “According to this policy, all students and staff are asked to be familiar with the policy and to sign a code of conduct.”
The Juba-based Irish member of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) further said, “Each year we hold workshops for both students and staff and better understand the issues involved in safeguarding, the best practices to prevent bad behavior, and the steps to follow if students and staff have concerns that they wish to raise.”
“It is very important that people especially minors and vulnerable adults are made aware of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior and that they know that they have the structures to support them if they wish to lodge a complaint or a concern,” Fr. Greene told ACI Africa in a WhatsApp interview.
Credits to: ACIAFRICA
29 September 2023
Sr Katherine, Solidarity Board Member
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