In Tonj, very often you would hear people saying, “Give me…” – give me clothes, give me shoes, give me this, give me that. At the beginning, l felt quite uncomfortable with such attitude, constantly demanding things from us as if we have endless supplies of goods to give away. After spending more than a year in Tonj now, I begin to realize that the locals literally speak in similar tone and manner to their fellowmen in their own language, “Give me this”, “I want that”. We may perceive such demanding attitude as impolite, but for the locals, this is their way of speech – simple and direct. In their culture, they used to share everything anyway, and hence, sometimes even take our goodwill for granted. In order to change this “take it for granted” attitude, the Salesian Sisters are offering different training programs to educate them on the importance of self-reliance. Although in any communities there are always some people who are ungrateful, I am blessed to know a few beautiful souls in Tonj, who are as generous as the poor widows in 1 Kings and the Gospel of Mark.
The poor widow in 1 Kings was prepared to eat the last meal with her son and starve to death, but when Elijah asked her to make a small loaf for him, “she did as Elijah told her”. While the poor widow in the Gospel of Mark “gave all she had to live on”. The generosity of these two poor widows may seem irrational or even senseless in our eyes, but I have the privilege to witness such generosity in Tonj. Mama Rose is one of these generous souls.
Mama Rose is our tailor in St. Bakhita Educational Centre. At the age of fourteen, she was married to an old man in Khartoum in Sudan and has six children. In 2015, she moved to Wau in South Sudan with her family, except her eldest son. Her husband failed to find a job and went to live in the village. Rose, however, decided to stay in town for the education of her children. At the end of 2016, she realised that there was no future for her and her family in Wau, and decided to put her two sons in her brother’s care in Wau where they are in school , and moved to Tonj where she could at least cultivate and provide food to her children. In Tonj she started living with her relative who offered her one bed where she and her children slept together. She tried to look for a job but failed, and was forced to leave when her relative started complaining. She moved with her children to a small tukul, where there was no bed but at least a grass rooftop and 4 walls to protect them against sun, rain and wind. In July 2017 she came to St. Bakhita Primary School and asked for a job. Since it was school holiday, Sr Linda invited her to join the stitching course in the women promotion centre while waiting for the school to start. She learned so well that sister suggested her to continue with the course where she could learn a useful skill for a better future for her family. Rose accepted with faith and lived on the food offered by sister every month. In 2018 after completing the course, sister offered her a job as a tailor in the Women Promotion Centre.
Only when she started making uniforms for our school, she began to understand the lasting benefit of the stitching course, the fruit of her faith and patience.
One day Mama Rose said to me with joy, “On that day I came to look for job, I saw one big carton box in the kitchen. I asked for it, sister gave it to me but she on. Now, all my children have clothes and shoes to wear, they can all go to school.”
Although Rose now has a steady income, her generosity puts a heavy burden on her. Rose has six children, three are staying with her in Tonj. Rose is the only one supporting the living and education of all her children. Despite all the challenges, she has no hesitation in helping her relatives and friends take care of three more young children. One adult and six children, squeezed in a small old rented tukul with 2 beds and no furniture. I still remember at the beginning of the rainy season, her roof was leaking keeping the whole family awake in rainy nights, so I bought her a plastic sheet to cover the grass rooftop. She was so thankful for God’s providence and protection. When I told her my brother has decided not to have children as it is difficult to raise a child in Hong Kong, she even offered to help raise my brother’s child, and always welcome me to live with her anytime, as long as I don’t mind sleeping with her. Mama Rose’s generosity is beyond measure, and she is not alone in Tonj.
Why are poor people more ready to share with others than rich people? May be it is because the poor have little to lose, while the rich have more to lose and they are more
attached to their possessions. Poverty does provide a deeper motivation for understanding your neighbors, welcoming others and attending to those who are suffering.
No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are spiritually poor.” In fact, both the poor and the rich can imitate Jesus, empty themselves, and become spiritually poor.
I pray that we can all keep our life free from love of money, be content with what we have, and share generously as the poor widows. No one has ever become poor by sharing.
(Last modified: 08-12-2021)