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Calendar shines a light on the Nuba people


Going to school in the remote and war-ravaged Nuba Mountains of Sudan has its challenges, including having to hide in foxholes when Antonov bombers are in the vicinity.

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It’s a far cry from the inner city classrooms of St Aloysius College but Year 7 students can relate a little better to the plight of young people in the conflict-ridden region following a recent visit to the school by Mercy Sister Nicole Rotaru RSM.

Sr Nicole, 66, spends four months of the year training student teachers in the foothills of the Nuba Mountains along with Mercy Sister Cathy Solano and a dedicated team of Kenyan and Ugandan staff. For the past two years they have produced a calendar featuring local artwork and stories about life in the Nuba. The proceeds help to support the graduate teachers to rebuild their village schools and educate the local children.

But the calendars are important in another way to a people caught up in what has been described as ‘Sudan’s forgotten war’.

“The Nuba people draw so much strength from knowing that people care, that people are praying for them and that they admire their artwork,” Sr Nicole said.

“It gives them energy and strength to continue.”

Sr Nicole first went to Sudan in 2006 to visit Sr Cathy. “I was so moved by the people’s faith, hospitality and simplicity that the seed was planted in me.”

She had a six-year appointment to complete but as soon as she had done so, she gained the necessary approvals and returned to the Nuba Mountains in February 2013.

Located on the border of South Sudan, the region has only experienced six years of relative peace in the past 35 years. Since the fighting resumed in June 2011, there has been constant bombings and many people have lost limbs from flying shrapnel.

“We had to build foxholes all around the schools and the hospital…we stay in them until it’s safe, sometimes the plane can be circling for three quarters of an hour,” said Sr Nicole, adding that because she is called ‘abuba’, which means grandmother, her foxhole has steps for her to climb down.

The Catholic Diocese of El Obeid provides education and health services in the area with funding coming from Caritas. There are no non-government organisations operating in the area.

St Daniel Comboni Catechists and Teachers Training Institute (SDC-CTTI) runs two groups of 25 students – women and men aged 20 to 45 who have usually reached an education level equivalent to about Year 7 or 8.

Sr Nicole said in addition to teaching at CTTI, she also conducted professional development for graduate teachers and staff at the Mother of Mercy Hospital and the Voice of Peace radio station, all of which come under the diocese.

Nicole leaves the Nuba Mountains before the wet season begins in May, returning in January on a cargo plane carrying supplies for the Nuba projects. From Nairobi, the sisters board the cargo plane carrying five tonnes of food, medicines, building equipment and school supplies. The plane lands in Juba in South Sudan for immigration checks and then continues for another three hours to Yida Refugee Camp where they usually stay overnight before making the eight-hour road trip in 4-wheel drives and utes (with some of the supplies) to Kauda, the main settlement in the Nuba Mountains.

The remainder of the five tonnes of supplies are transported to the region before the wet season sets in. “Once the wet season begins, nothing can come in or out,” she said. “There are lots of seasonal rivers and water pours down the mountains.”

Sr Nicole said despite the civil war, the Nuba people were very determined to get on with their lives and were very resilient.

“They get on with gardening and farming, looking after their sheep and goats, they are so defiant,” she said.

“They are very faith-filled, they have a spirituality of family, community and love of their land…they don’t want to leave their own land.”

The ‘Shining with Life’ 2018 calendar is available for a $10 donation and can be ordered by emailing Sr Nicole at




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