I write with the shocking news that on May 26, Charles Kule Mitsagharu and Willis Binsiima, Ugandan math teachers at Hope and Resurrection Secondary in South Sudan were shot and killed as they were traveling between Rumbek and the school. This violent act was a case of mistaken identity. The men who committed the murders were seeking two men from Kenya as an act of revenge. Headmaster Anthony Madang Wal was traveling with them, but his life was spared. It occurred far from Hope and Resurrection Secondary and was not related to the school in any way. The deaths of two good and loyal teachers in such a violent way have caused pain, anger, and grief on both sides of the world.
Upon hearing of the news, some students considered going into the bush to find the men who had murdered their teachers. Fortunately, they didn’t do that. Instead, they marched from Atiaba to Rumbek, a distance of thirty miles. They carried signs, and when they got to Rumbek, they went to government offices to demand justice. They were met on the road by priests and staff members of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek. This organization has partnered with Hope for Humanity in several ways in the past. When the priests could not dissuade the students from marching, they joined them in their march. Once in Rumbek, the priests sheltered the students and teachers in the Catholic Diocese compound and provided counsel and care for them.
When Suzanne Hicks told me about the march, I responded with concern that they would not be safe and feared for their well-being. But then Suzanne said, “Mary, they responded by doing what they have been taught at Hope and Resurrection.” I saw in an instant that Suzanne was right. The students believe in peace and that disagreements are not settled by guns and revenge. They do not trust that the government is strong enough to catch and punish the guilty men who shot their teachers, but they are demanding that justice be done through peaceful demonstrations and with their words.
This sad event reveals the progress and change that has gone on in the eleven years since Jim and I had to close the school early because of an ambush and killing of people of one clan by people of another clan. The citizens have found their voices, especially the students of Hope and Resurrection Secondary. Everything is out in the open for others to know. The event has been shared on social media, and worldwide there is a cry for change that does not foster violent acts as the solution to conflicts.
The Ugandan teachers returned to Uganda with the bodies of Charles and Willis. They asked Hope for Humanity to let them stay in Uganda for the next two months and that they will return in August to finish out the school year. Their request is being honored. Suzanne is going to the school with a hastily put together US team and will be there until August when the teachers from Uganda return. The goal is to keep the school functioning as best they can, and to address the emotional healing of students from this trauma.
Through photos posted on social media yesterday, I witnessed from afar the scene at the airport strip in Rumbek of the chartered plane leaving with the Ugandan teachers and the bodies of their fallen colleagues. Crowds were there—government officials, students and former students, and people from the communities which the school serves. The tragic loss of the lives of Charles and Willis have profoundly affected the South Sudanese people who are longing for positive change in their society. There is a collective cry for stability and order that is being raised and can’t be denied.
Sometimes I view Hope and Resurrection Secondary as fragile because of the challenges to provide quality education in rural South Sudan. But this sad event shows that the school is strong, and its strength lies in the excellent character of its teachers and the young people it educates. Our students are learning that violence solves nothing, that war is not the answer, and that there are joy and depth to life from the knowledge of literature, science, and math. That the students responded to the loss of their teachers with a march, and their determination to see it through led to the Catholic staff and priests to join them, demonstrates in action their commitment to being a part of the change that needs to occur in South Sudan.
What is ahead? The United Nations Mission in South Sudan has been an invaluable help to the Board of Hope for Humanity in transporting the teachers and the bodies of Charles and Willis back to Uganda, and this organization will be present at the Hope and Resurrection Secondary for support during the next weeks. The months ahead will not be easy, but we are encouraged by the interest and care of others and inspired by the students’ and teachers’ courage and determination.
We are sad but not defeated.
For more information about Hope and Resurrection Secondary go to hopeforhumanityinc.org
Through the website, there is a way to donate to the families of Charles and Willis.