Diocese of Durham celebrates Sudanese champion of education

(From l-r) Bishop Francis, Reverend Alan Bartlett, Chair of the Edith Jackson Trust, and Reverend David Tomlinson, Secretary of the Trust.(Photo: Keith Blundy)

The Diocese of Durham last week welcomed a survivor of the Sudanese civil war who has championed the cause of education in Southern Sudan.

Bishop Francis Loyo was in England as part of celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the link between Salisbury and Sudan.

He spent time last week at St John's College, Durham, at an event honouring his work in partnership with the Edith Jackson Trust to build a school in his home town of Rokon, Southern Sudan.

Bishop Loyo, the second most senior bishop in the Episcopal Church of Sudan, has personal links to Durham as a former student of St John's College.

Reverend Canon Dr Alan Bartlett, vicar of St Giles' and Cranmer Visiting Fellow in Anglicanism at St John's College, was tutor to the bishop during his time at St John's.

He explained: "The bishop's story reflects that of his nation. As the war raged, he was imprisoned and tortured, his family had fled into the bush and for years they thought one another dead.

"With the coming of peace the family were reunited through the work of relief agencies and Bishop Francis was given opportunity to study at Saint John's theological college in Durham.

"The relationships which sprang out of that twelve month sojourn are relationships which have ensured the success of the Trust.

"When a nation spends fifty years ripping itself apart in a bloody civil war the children learn just three things, how to hide, how to hate, how to kill.

"The Edith Jackson Trust was set up to enable education in the world's newest nation of Southern Sudan and has worked hard to challenge those lessons."

The Edith Jackson Trust is based in the Diocese of Durham and was set up with an initial legacy from Edith Jackson, who had spent time teaching in Sudan in the 1950s.

The trust is supported by local Anglican and Methodist churches, schools and colleges, and opened its first school in Rokon in 2011.

Bishop Loyo said: "The peace [agreement] was signed when I was in Durham in 2004/5. When the peace was signed, we felt it was important for us to start beginning reconstruction, and one of the priorities was the school. Durham came up with support through the Edith Jackson Trust. You can see the hand of God at work here, touching the hearts of many people."

Signs of the brutal civil war are still visible in the form of bullet cartridges in the playground. Earlier this year, two children were killed nearby when a landmine went off.

Despite the dangers, 90 children attend the two-classroom school. The first teachers from its new teacher training programme are due to graduate in 2015.

Dr Bartlett said: "Bishop Francis is a visionary man who dreams of free, educated, confident people turning the oil rich Southern Sudan into a peaceful prosperous society. He has achieved a lot, with very little, and his visit to Durham is an inspiration to the trust and provided an opportunity to hear a little more about this humble, yet remarkable man."

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