IT IS hard to imagine a greater contrast – the beautiful seaside town of Mornington, with its thriving lifestyle – and war-torn and starving South Sudan where just staying alive is the main concern.
Yet, they are linked by a former Melbourne school headmaster and the generosity of a Mornington church.
South Sudan is suffering from a long and brutal civil war. It is one of four nations described by the United Nations as in the grip of famine.
Millions of people may die of starvation.
Located in the heart of Africa, it is the youngest nation in the world, gaining independence from the largely Islamic Sudan in 2011.
Two years later, a civil war, based on traditional tribal rivalry, broke out, pitting the ruling Sudan Liberation Army against a rebel force.
In the small town of Riimenze, De La Salle Brother Bill Firman, former principal of St Bede’s, Mentone, runs a mission called Solidarity with South Sudan.
The mission has a large property and farm respected by both sides.
Normally, the mission provides teacher, nursing and agricultural training.
Now, it is refuge for village people who have been beaten and raped and had their houses and crops burned.
They are threatened with death even while they are starving.
The only safe place is the mission so that is where they go.
Just before Easter, St Macartan’s Catholic Church, Mornington heard that Brother Firman was back home briefly from Southern Sudan.
A member of the church’s social justice committee contacted him and heard details of the situation facing the people of Riimenze.
So, with the support of St Macartan’s parish priest, Father Joe Bui Duc Tien, an appeal was held at masses on one weekend, raising $12,474.
One of the missionaries, Sister Rosa, wrote of the mission’s work now: “The number (of refugees) is increasing every day.
“On January 26 there were 1075 family groups, totalling 5056 people.
“Drinking water is provided every day, as much as we can give.
“Porridge is provided every day to 1000 children and 300 elderly.
“Cups of milk are given to old and very weakened elderly.”
Most refugees survive on the mission’s store of root crops – a store that soon will be exhausted.
In the meantime, the refugees keep coming.
Tax-deductible donations mentioning Solidarity with South Sudan can be sent to: Lasallian Foundation on its website www.lasallianfoundation.org or call 9508 2700.