• Billy Smyth

First steps

One more week to go and I feel as if I’m only just beginning to get a handle on where to start. Just finding out who is who, where things are, what is working, what is available in town, what other organisations are around and who I should visit has been slowly emerging.

I have had several useful meetings with Bishop Hilary and the diocesan staff to develop a plan for the reopening of the Vocational Training Centre (VTC). Making a realistic budget has been a challenge with rampant inflation and acute shortages of everything.

It has been good to get my hands dirty with some practical work - maintenance on the diocesan pickup and plenty of wiring around the VTC compound. My two self-appointed helpers Sam and Bonphas have been a God-send and have done a lot of tidying up. They cleared out one of the stores today.

Sam sometimes cooks lunch for me – bananas are his specialty. At 22, Sam has just finished his S4 (GCSE) year in school – war disrupts everything and everyone. He has land and wants to farm but the countryside is not safe so he squats in town longing for peace like so many others.

Bishop Hilary has taken me to meet some of the aid organisations here in Yei and some have shown interest in supporting the VTC through sponsoring students. UNHCR remembered their past connection so hopefully that will prove fruitful again. UMCOR (United Methodists) have agreed to give some support, but the college needs to get up and running first. Offering training opportunities and equipping young people with practical skills are key factors in establishing peace and in rebuilding. So much has been destroyed once again.

In terms of the bigger picture, the army and opposition led offensive against one of the rebel groups has resulted in more people fleeing the countryside around Yei and arriving destitute and traumatised in town. Bishop Hilary has been to visit the new camp and offer prayer and comfort. It is reported that a new raft of refugees have crossed into DR Congo as well.

Bishop Hilary has spoken out to condemn the violence saying that it "violates the heart of the revitalised peace agreement."

Despite all the many challenges and all the sadness it has been good to be here. It has given me the opportunity to talk with Bishop Hilary, to experience the situation as it is, to meet friends from the past, to listen to the hopes of the diocese, to make some plans together and to pray and worship with God’s people.

I must admit I am looking forward to a wheaten farl and some potatoes…and of course seeing the family.

(Compiled by Jenny from various whatsapp messages.)

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