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Listening: Sudanese delegate brings message of determination to UN Commission gathering

By Daphne Mack
[Episcopal News Service]  "To have strong faith in God is a very strong weapon," said  Harriet Baka Nathan Pitia, provincial trainer for the Mothers' Union of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.

Pitia is a delegate to the 50th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York City, through March 8. She delivered a passionate speech on the welfare of Sudanese people and the work of the Mothers' Union at a March 1 gathering at the Episcopal Church Center, hosted by the Anglican Consultative Council.

Pitia attributed the Sudanese survival, during the two decade war that has resulted in the deaths of 2 million people, to their "trust, strong belief, and unquestioning confidence in God."

"The Southern Sudanese and even those who were displaced to the north were strong in the faith," she said. "The sister churches in the Sudan lived a very strong ecumenism in order to look after the folks of God being devoured by wild beasts and facing churches being demolished."

They never gave up, she said, sometimes using their own homes as places "to come together and pray."

The displacement of people to IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps and neighboring foreign countries, she said, caused unemployment and homelessness, rendering them "helpless."

"All these caused a very difficult life. There was  starvation; children, mothers, and old people became vulnerable to diseases like malnourishment due to lack of enough good food, quality food," she explained. "Lactating mothers became bony, losing their breast milk, and pregnant women died during delivery because of lack of blood due to poor feeding."

Pitia also spoke of the increase in children orphaned by the war and HIV/AIDS, saying that in most cases, both parents died leaving small children "with very few relatives to care for them."

Education and the Mother's Union

Education is a human right, said Pitia, "an essential tool for achieving equality, and peace."

"When we talk of development in any form is when the infrastructure is built," she explained. "Investing in informal and non-formal education and training for girls and women should be the means of achieving sustainable development and economic growth," she said.

"Being a leader is a natural God-given talent," said Pitia, "and going to school improves it with the increase in knowledge."

She spoke of women being "very strong leaders" in their families, communities, parishes, dioceses, and provinces, and drew applause when she expressed gratitude for the progressive thinking of Archbishop Joseph Marona of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, which now has women priests. The Mothers' Union, a worldwide Anglican organization whose purpose is to be concerned with all aspects of Christian family life, has played leading roles in the Church of the Sudan with spiritual and development programs.

Some of the spiritual programs implemented include Tuesday prayers, home fellowships, and visiting prisons, hospitals, and orphanages.

A few of the development programs deal with creating workshops, seminars and conferences on leadership, skills training, conflict resolution, peace building, reconciliation and the Millennium Development Goals.

In 2000, the Mothers' Union started a literacy program  in Juba, Khartoum and Renk.

"But the demand is very high by the 21 dioceses," said Pitia. "The program was initiated because of the high rate of illiteracy among almost all the Mothers' Union members, who are spiritual leaders with little or no education."

She explained that despite these initiatives, women in the Church of the Sudan remain "at the lower level."

Pitia closed by recommending the following:

  • Support education for the Mothers' Union members
  • Support income generating activities as a source of income for Sudanese families
  • Offer short and long term courses in the fields of tailoring/home economics; secretarial /stenography courses; nursery teacher training
  • Support theological studies for women
  • Support small business projects
  • Support youth projects

"I believe if all these requirements are fulfilled, we  will at least raise the standard of the women in the Episcopal Church of Sudan to a competitive level in building the church of God in Sudan," she said.

"African women have refused to die for the African culture," said the Rev. Joyce Kariuki, of the Anglican Church of Kenya. "We are going to live, we are going to survive and we are going to make it for the sake of the generations to come. As we hear the stories, I feel I have to say that we are not looking for sympathy. We are looking for people who can work with us, and support us and not sympathize. So keep us in prayer, we are hanging in there, we will make it, we are all right because God is good."

Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, Anglican Observer at the United Nations, said "tremendous work has been done in the US for Sudan."

"The Friends of Sudan and this church were actually advocating for Sudan and the Episcopal Church has actually intervened in a lot of forums in the USA," said Tuatagaloa-Matalavea. "My own boss, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is right in Sudan, visiting the camp and actually showing God's mercy with our people there. So it's not just prayer. We are also walking the road with you and we will continue to uphold you in prayer and any other means that we are able to access with the blessing of God."