Fr. Tony O'Riordan with Children of Maban, South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey
Little baby Pia was born on a dark night into one of the poorest communities in the world. But there is hope for a brighter future for her, and for her family, says Tony O’Riordan SJ.
It was dark, and I was about to take some rest at the end of a long day. My plan to rest was interrupted by one of our compound watchmen who came to tell me that John, one of our neighbours, had called asking for help.
John wanted to ask if we would be able to help to take his wife to the hospital because she had gone into labour. The translation challenges meant it took a few minutes for me to figure out what was going on. Once I realised that I was the only one in the compound who could drive I started the car and headed off with John, who acted as a guide.
As we drove into the darkness of Maban he gestured left and right as we drove among mud huts, avoiding pigs and dogs. Soon we had reached an open space where local youths play football at sunset. The headlamps of the car created a bright corridor of light, at the end of which I could make out a huddle of people.
It was John’s wife, the expectant mother, with some other women who were making their way on foot to the hospital. It was clear that she was in pain and needed the support of the other women to walk. There was no time to lose. So, as soon as she managed to get into the back of
the car we headed straight for the hospital which was less than a 10-minute drive. I have done many courses and trainings as a Jesuit, but midwifery was not on the curriculum, so thankfully we arrived at the maternity unit before the baby was born.
The mobile phone network was (as is common) not working so it was early the following morning before John told me that his wife had given birth to a lovely baby girl. They have called her Pia, after my assistant here in the project as a way of acknowledging the small role that the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) played in her coming into this world.
Like most babies born across the world each day, Baby Pia’s birth was welcomed with great joy and celebrations. But this little girl faces immense challenges for survival, for education and for opportunity. This has little to do with the natural abilities of this infant child or indeed her parents or family. It has everything to do with the place and time of her birth. She has been born in South Sudan, the youngest country in the world; a country where people have lived through decades of war.
Fr. Tony O'Riordan SJ chatting with the children of Doro Refufee Camp in Maban, South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey
Baby Pia has been born into Maban County, a remote part of this vast country where over 60% of the population comprises women and children and where three in four people are displaced from their homes because of war. They face hunger and poverty on a daily basis. This baby has been born into one of the poorest communities on the planet today.
It’s already clear that this Baby Pia will benefit from the JRS presence in Maban. Her father John is one of the 500 young adults JRS is training to be teachers. Her aunt is one of several women who are training in tailoring skills. In time, it is hoped, little Pia will attend one of the local Early Childhood Development centres which are run with support from JRS. Her older sister is already a pupil there. Perhaps by the time Pia attends, her father will be teaching her.
I am hopeful that Baby Pia will be helped to meet the immense challenges of the situation she has been born into. She will be supported by her immediate family who like so many other families in Maban rise to the daunting daily tasks of dealing with hunger, civil conflict and poverty.
Families here are resilient and resourceful.
I am hopeful for Pia too because she is part of the JRS family. This family is a concrete expression of the solidarity of all humanity. JRS is a channel for the compassion of so many people who respond to the needs of children such as Baby Pia. This channelled compassion often comes through the Irish Jesuit Mission office and it allows us to be present here in Maban. It enables us offer the support and training that is giving people here hope and a chance of a better life.
I hope one day I get to meet Baby Pia grown up as a strong and confident young woman. I will rejoice that I was there not only on that dark night when she was born, but that with the support of so many others we have been able to bring light to this forgotten part of the world. Such light allows our little sisters and brothers to grow.
Many of you will be familiar with the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. In the case of baby Pia and other children in Maban, it takes concerned members of her worldwide family to raise her and her little friends. What a wonderful expression of the Gospel proclamation that we are all brothers and sisters.
Author: Fr Tony O’Riordan SJ is Project Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Maban, Sout Sudan. August 16, 2017