Sister Barbara Paleczny

Sister Barbara Paleczny, SSND, dances with a child during a Healing from Trauma workshop in Agok, Abyei, South Sudan.

Helping South Sudan move toward a future of hope

Old Fangak is a community of people living by the Zaraf River in South Sudan. It is normally a small community, with an open market and people who live by raising cows, trading on the river, fishing and gardening. During the dry/cool season, cool means that it doesn’t get much above 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, while temperatures drop to sometimes below 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

Like the heat, the number of people living there continue to rise, from 5,000 to 10,000 in one year. In all of South Sudan, there are several hundred thousand displaced people and more who fled as refugees because of the civil war, which has lasted since 1955 with only short spans of uneasy peace.

Many of the children, babies, and adults have various, neglected tropical diseases, including acute malnutrition, tuberculosis, kidney disease, Kala-azar (also known as black fever and Dumdum fever).

In view of all this misery, it is not surprising that South Sudan is home to multiple generations of families who are suffering from deep trauma. This reality led Sister Cathy Arata, SSND, to invite experts to set up Capacitar wellness and healing workshops throughout the country.

Helping people to help themselves and others to heal from trauma also has become the key focus of Sister Barbara Paleczny, SSND.

Creation of new connections

Capacitar is a program they use to help heal trauma and empower wellness. A key premise is that each person has an inherent capacity to return to balance and wholeness – body, mind, spirit and emotions. And because the core experiences of trauma are disempowerment and disconnection, recovery is based on the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections, all taking place in the context of relationships.

Teacher Training Program for Fangak County, South Sudan.

In all South Sudan, deprivation is more than visible as a result of the 1,000 percent inflation over the past two years. Prices have skyrocketed, and money is almost without value. There is a lack of food.

Sister Barbara’s community in Juba is responding. But when they agreed to say “no” to children asking for school fees, uniforms and shoes, one religious brother asked, “What are you going to do when a mother comes with her little ones and say they are all hungry?”

Sisters Barbara Paleczny, Rose Cecile Espinos and Ginny Bobrowski, SSND, with a group in the In-Service Teacher Training Program in Old Fangak, South Sudan.

Because this type of giving is not a good way to help, Sister Barbara’s community has found other ways, such as being a hidden sponsor. For example, the community supports a neighboring social worker and immigrant from Uganda who works cleaning hotel rooms. She, in turn, is now organizing ways for women to provide meals for others. Unfortunately, people’s hope is waning as tensions mount throughout the country. The peace process has not taken hold and the economy has collapsed (not quite officially, but in practice). Desperate people do desperate things. Yet, deep faith in God who has carried them this far now uplifts people to go on. Sister Barbara says that she finds daily that it is a privilege to be with them and the Solidarity community, working with others from around the world to give all they can. “There is no doubt that the joys and hopes, the griefs and sorrows of the people are ours.”

For more information, please visit Solidarity with South Sudan.

This article was published in the 2016 edition of Trust & Dare magazine. Sister Barbara has since returned to Canada, but she still stays in touch with her colleagues in South Sudan. She is a 60 year Jubilarian in 2022. Read more about SSND’s presence in the area at