Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New School in the Sudan Offers Renewed Hope

by Tricia Steadman Jump

    As 183,000 students return this fall to the campuses of the 28 Jesuit-affiliated colleges and universities, many will find themselves standing blurry-eyed in the campus coffee house ordering a triple shot, nonfat, no foam venti latte to help keep their eyes open during their first morning lecture hall class of the semester. For the students at Gonzaga University in Spokane, that latte not only helps them make it through their Statistical Analysis 101 class, it also helps students 7,600 miles away on the campus of the Catholic University of the Sudan.

Watch an Interview with Fr. Mike Schultheis on the progress of the Catholic University of the Sudan.

    The pilot program, called the African Outreach Donate a Latte, was started last year and allows Gonzaga students to donate $2 from their dining program’s funds to the Sudanese school in Juba that opened its doors last fall to its inaugural class of 35 students. Thousands of dollars were raised last year via the Donate a Latte program for the new Catholic university, providing much needed materials such as books and even building materials for the school. For Jesuit Father Mike Schultheis, vice chancellor of the Catholic University of the Sudan, Gonzaga’s coffee for charity initiative also keeps him connected to his home province of Oregon, even though he’s been working in educational apostolates in Africa for more than 30 years.
“My hope would be to see programs like Gonzaga’s be replicated at other Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States,” said Schultheis. With educational opportunities in the country being among the worst in the world and adult literacy below 30 percent, Schultheis realizes that the Catholic University of the Sudan is a critical component in moving the country forward after almost 25 years of civil war. The decades-long conflict left an estimated 2.5 million southerners dead and an estimated 4.6 million displaced.
    The Catholic Bishops’ Conference established the Catholic University of the Sudan as a centerpiece of their national program to help the country recover from decades of violence, famine and mass displacement of people. The vision for the university and its development goes back even farther, to half a century ago, soon after Sudan’s independence from Britain in 1956. The idea for the university was discussed again when former Sudanese president Jafaar Nimeiry met with Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1983, just months before a civil war broke out in the county and dashed the university project yet again.
    With a peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan signed in 2005, refugees began to return from exile and rebuild their communities. But the challenges were almost overwhelming with the need to develop basic institutions of governance, to construct roads and health clinics, to build schools and to train personnel with skills and expertise to manage and provide basic services to the populace. The Bishops recognized that the Church was called to assist in building the new Sudan.
    “The Catholic University of the Sudan, as a national institution, is a dream long deferred,” explained Schultheis. “Still, the bishops recognized the need for higher level education for Sudanese who spent years as refugees and had little hope of gaining access to public institutions.”
    In February 2007, the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference brought Schultheis, who has a background in economics and has administered schools in Ghana and Mozambique, into the project planning to help steer the creation of a master plan for the school that was intended to shape and guide the development of the university over the next few years.
    Incorporating some of the best features of existing universities, including Jesuit schools in the U.S., Schultheis’ master plan developed a model of constituent colleges in three different locations for the Catholic University of the Sudan. The master plan proposed a faculty of Arts & Social Sciences in Juba, the principal city of southern Sudan, with programs in Economics and Business Administration, Information & Communications Sciences & Technology and Social & Religious Studies. The second faculty in Agricultural & Environmental Sciences opens this month in Wau. Their campus is designed to address issues of restoring the fertility of the soils and increasing food productivity. The third faculty will be in engineering with plans to locate it in the oil rich middle region of the Sudan. The engineering programs will be tailored to train students in the skills required to build roads, to understand the geophysical sciences and to manage the development of Sudan’s rich natural resources, including petroleum
    “There’s a strong scientific base to the curriculum, a strong mathematical and science base,” said Schultheis. “We want to train students to be rigorous, to do analytical work and to really contribute to the development of the future of the Sudan.”
    The Juba campus students completed their first year in early June of this year and those 34 students began their second year of studies this month along with a new incoming class, bringing the total student body to over 90 students. They come from every diocese and state in the Sudan, with more than three-quarters Catholic.
    “We look to train a generation of men and women who are competent technically but also are committed in terms of values. And part of the values has to do with the values of Catholic social thought," said Shultheis.
    With the campus of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences opening this month in Wau, Schultheis can proudly exclaim that “the baby has been born!” As he quotes the biblical passage on the birth of John the Baptist, Schultheis asks “what will this baby become?”  and sums up his thoughts on the future of the school with “the hope that what is born will become an active and a vigorous young institution that offers great hope for all of Sudan.”

Tricia Steadman Jump is the Managing Editor of National Jesuit News and the Media Relations Manager for the Jesuit Conference.

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