Precisely because the circumstances of the children are so difficult and their families so large and so poor – eight children or more is by no means unusual – the priest places great hope in the schools, saying that "however modest our means are here, without education the children will have no chance of a better life."
Indeed, the Catholic school system is one of the pillars of the small Church in Sudan. For one Church official, who requested that his name not be used, the Church educational system is crucially important.
The official explains: "Our schools gain us acceptance among the majority Muslim community, and above all with the state. The state is strongly Islamic, but – because of the rapid population growth, the number of people moving into cities and limited public resources – its budget is overstretched and insufficient to provide enough schools. Hence, the government is happy to see the Church involved. As a Church we maintain almost 20 public schools in the city of Khartoum alone, and permission to build schools, unlike permission to construct churches, is something that is always granted to us."
The schools are attended both by Christians and by Muslims. The Church official acknowledges that the quality of the schools is not the best. He says: "after all, we hardly have money for teachers and books, and nor do our students."
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But no pupil is refused admittance, even if he or she cannot afford the school fees. "For the children of the poorest families the school is the only possibility of bringing a little order into their lives," the official stresses.
ACN is committed to support the Catholic schools in Sudan.
"The Church in Sudan has asked us for help," says Christine du Coudray-Wiehe, who oversees ACN-funded projects in Sudan.
"It is an urgent necessity to respond, as the majority of the pupils are from Catholic families from southern Sudan," she added. "It is vital for these families that are children be able to attend a Christian school – for this is the only way we can prevent them from being Catholics at home and Muslims at school."
Oliver Maksan writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA);www.acnuk.org (UK);www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL);www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)