© Submitted photo
Timothy Program International Canadian office and Centre for Excellence in International Development (CEID) director John Fryters (far left) poses with leaders of St. Bart’s Episcopal Orphanage in Wudu, South Sudan, which is actively supported by CEID in Prince Albert. Fryters, who oversees various schools and development projects in South Sudan, is closely monitoring news from the war-torn country.
The local director of a Christian school program and international development agency is keeping a close eye on news from South Sudan.
John Fryters -- director of the Timothy Program International (TPI) Canadian office as well as the Centre for Excellence in International Development (CEID) -- was visiting school officials in Peru when he heard that fighting had broken out between the South Sudanese government and rebel factions led by former vice-president Riek Machar.
“Initially it was very bad -- over a thousand people killed, thousands injured in the disputed area which is in Unity state and in Jonglei,” Fryters said.
“I immediately got in touch with my people on the ground in South Sudan. We’re around 30 kilometres, 40 kilometres outside the … border in the tip of South Sudan, so we’re quite aways removed from the troublesome spot where they’re having most of the fighting.”
Under the auspices of the TPI, Fryters oversees two Bible schools in the Kajo Keji county of South Sudan -- one in Lilye and the other in Lire. Neither school has been affected by the fighting and both are still running.
The Canadian TPI office also runs a technical school in the region in partnership with the Southern Sudan Humanitarian Action Development Agency (SSHADA).
“I talked to the director of SSHADA in Saskatoon and he is also assuring me that the school is running normally,” Fryters said.
A number of international development projects located in the southern tip of the country have also remained unaffected by the fighting.
However, the ongoing violence has thrown a wrench in the works of another planned initiative.
“We’re starting another campus possibly in Aweil, another Bible school -- and that is actually in the war zone, so I don’t know where it stands,” Fryters said.
“The school is not open yet, so it’s kind of irrelevant. We’re kind of watching the situation.”
Fighting recently spread into the capital city of Juba, causing countries including the United States to withdraw many of their diplomatic personnel.
Shortages of food and other essential supplies are now being reported, since such goods typically travel through Juba en route to other locations in the country.
Thus far, students and stuff at the TPI schools have largely avoided such shortages.
We know and we take our own risk when we go in. So now with the war breaking out, it’s going to be even more riskier, I think. John Fryters
“In Kajo Keji county … it’s a highly cultural area, so I don’t think there is any food shortage … right there,” Fryters said.
Still, the Prince Albert clergyman remains “very concerned” about developments in South Sudan.
“This is a new country,” he said. “It was declared independent in July of 2011.
“It’s a very, very brand new country, not even three years old, and now they’re starting to fight among themselves and it’s not very good. It’s not a very good sign. It shows that there is much instability still in this land.”
Travelling into risky areas, however, is nothing new for Fryters, who last visited the South Sudan schools for two weeks in October and November.
Even before the recent fighting, Canada has had a travel advisory in place for South Sudan, meaning Fryters and his companions are not covered by insurance when travelling into the country.
“It’s dangerous, according to them,” Fryters said. “But we have to do our work. We’re international developers and we have to do our work, so we’re not necessarily bound by those warnings.
“We know and we take our own risk when we go in. So now with the war breaking out, it’s going to be even more riskier, I think.”
The risk of flying can depend on location, he noted.
Rather than taking the route through Juba, Fryters and his crew typically fly from Kampala right into an airstrip where the schools are located – a somewhat safer approach.
While Fryters is still hoping to fly back to Africa soon, he plans to monitor the situation on the ground with the help of security advisors located inside the country.
In any case, he indicated that violence on the ground would not prevent TPI or CEID staff members from returning to South Sudan.
“Canadians still fly into Iran and they still fly into Syria because we have to do a certain amount of work in international development,” Fryters said.
“Certainly a war or a civil war is not going to hold us back.”