A Catholic Church initiative in South Sudan sends a team, including Romano Longole, to remote villages to promote harmony among ethnic groups.
T he village was waiting for Romano Longole to begin his presentation. A gorgeous blue sky hung overhead. All the Toposa men, women and youth were sitting in the central area. Their numerous stick and mud huts with grass-peaked roofs surrounded them. Cattle, goats, chickens and dogs wandered here and there, yet everyone was attentive as Longole began to speak to them in parables.
Longole’s job is mediating and motivating the Toposa and other ethnic groups who live in the Kuron region in the southeastern part of South Sudan to work together for peace and unity. His is not an easy task in an area that emerged from years of the country’s wars, only to be beset with ethnic rivalries and hostilities.
Today’s workshop is part of Longole’s ministry at Holy Trinity Peace Village – Kuron. Better known as Kuron Peace Village, this model initiative in a remote part of Eastern Equatoria is a project of Catholic Emeritus Bishop Paride Taban of the Diocese of Torit. Over the past 20 years, Bishop Taban has worked to build what he describes as “a community where people with different ethnicities and different religious backgrounds can live side by side with confidence in harmony and fellowship.”
Romano Longole is well suited to this ministry. Born in Uganda but raised and educated in Kenya, he is a member of the Karamojong ethnic group and speaks the Karamojong language, which is also the language of the Toposa of South Sudan. He speaks English and Swahili and has an understanding of several other languages.
Longole has been working with the Catholic Church on peace and justice issues for decades. He often uses images to convey his message, such as using the eyes to represent male and female when he is discussing issues of gender equality.
Today he tells the listening villagers, “You can’t see so well with only one eye. You need two eyes for clear vision. So send your girls to school.” Toposa men are resistant to this idea and prefer to keep the women in the house. Thanks to efforts like Longole’s, however, attitudes are slowly changing. More and more girls are asking for schooling, and more fathers are allowing them to study.
Longole’s responsibilities often take him into remote villages like this. He and his team, two young Toposa men named Eliah and Peter, go where the people are. They are constantly on the move and, of course, in these settings, things can change quickly. The team may spend one or two nights in any community trying to resolve problems.
The main issue the team attempts to address is violence arising from cattle raiding. This is a deep-rooted issue and cannot be changed overnight. Cattle are seen as a most important resource in several of the cultures of South Sudan. The peace team is often approached by elders seeking help with mediating between conflicting groups.
The topics for discussion that Longole and his team facilitate are all encompassing. In addition to clan disagreements and gender inequality, Longole readily addresses issues like alcoholism, thefts and many other social problems. He is doing what the government should be doing, but government officials are absent out here.
Longole is very enthusiastic about his work. In a short time, he has gained the respect and admiration of the chiefs and local people through his humble and unassuming ways. Being a Karamojong, to which the Toposa are related, he is aware of the dominant issues the Toposa face and how to approach them about changing attitudes and behaviors. He knows, and is known by, so very many in this area.
In addition to his gentle and calm disposition, Longole has a quick wit and keen insight into the people he works with. Like Jesus, he silences his critics with common sense and faith. He insists that these Toposa men and women devote their lives to truly living as Christians and not seeking revenge for previous wrongs.
I have been honored and blessed to work with Romano Longole at Kuron Peace Village. We spend time talking about many things, and I have learned so much from him. I thank God for his presence here.
Featured image: Romano Longole stands before tribal leaders in the Kuron region, ready to help them work for peace. (Gabe Hurrish/South Sudan)