Loretto Sister Anne Mary with students from the Loreto Secondary Boarding School in South Sudan. Photo courtesy of Mary Ward International

Toronto school steps up for Sudan girls

  • November 30, 2011

TORONTO - An all-girls Toronto Catholic high school is looking to raise $20,000 this school year to help sustain South Sudan’s first secondary school for girls.

“We are trying to raise enough funds to help (the Loretto Sisters) open that school so young women can continue to be educated,” said Loretto Abbey High School principal Alda Bassani.

Toronto’s Loretto Abbey is partnering with another Loretto Abbey in Dublin, Ireland, to raise funds for the Loreto Secondary Boarding School in South Sudan. The school is run by the Irish province of the Loretto Sisters, also known as the Institute of the Blessed Virgin May (IBVM). Students and staff will be donating proceeds from charity events throughout the school year. Planned so far are a pasta night, Christmas concert and multicultural event.

“Every year, in keeping with the teachings of the Church and social justice, we make students aware of what’s going on in the world,” Bassani said.

The IBVM Sisters opened the high school in Rumbek, South Sudan, in 2008 at the request of the local bishop. Rumbek is an economically disadvantaged region with a population of about four million.

The project began “because nobody was running Catholic schools,” said Sr. Evanne Hunter, IBVM provincial leader in Canada. “There’s nothing in South Sudan, no government, no infrastructure. Education is not a priority.”

So the congregation stepped up and responded to a significant need, as outlined in a 2008 report by the Irish Loreto Sisters. “It is not seen as important for girls to be educated,” the report said. Most girls only have a few years of primary education, “so a lot of preliminary work has had to be done to encourage parents to send their daughters to school.” 

So far, the project has been successful. In its first year, 36 girls enrolled, with 18 in pre-secondary.

“These girls were bravely stepping out and registering for secondary education in a culture that still practises early and arranged marriages,” the Irish Sisters wrote in their report.

For more than 50 years, civil war between the Islamic north and Christian south in Sudan has devastated the country, leading to more than two million deaths and millions of people displaced. In July, hopes were high that the division of the north and south, leading to the new country of South Sudan, would lead to lasting peace.

But the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference warned in late October that the threat of war is once again looming between the two countries, noting the spread of violence in several regions.

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