World Humanitarian Day – Walking in Her Shoes

“There are no roads where we work,” Irene Nyambura, World Concern’s One Village Transformed coordinator in South Sudan explains. Over the years, Irene has gotten used to going beyond the end of the road to reach the communities where she works.

Irene enjoys building relationships with members of the communities where she works in South Sudan.

Born and raised in Kenya, Irene has been working with extremely remote communities in South Sudan for a couple of years now. On a typical day, the One Village Transformed coordinator visits at least half a dozen remote villages and homes where she meets with community leaders and families and oversees training sessions in each village.

“Seeing leaders plan for their own communities and sharing this with us is very fulfilling,” she says. The mother of two especially enjoys seeing and hearing stories of progress among the people she works with. “For instance, the first time we visited Kuanya village, there was no road to get to the village. The community was happy to receive us and promised to make it easier for us to access them. Shortly after, they cleared off thickets for us, now our vehicle can drive in.”

In light of recent tensions within the young, volatile nation of South Sudan, however, Irene’s job can be even more challenging. In February, Wau town, where World Concern’s office is located, was under fire. “The gunfire was heavy. We could hear it very close to our office. I didn’t think we would make it,” she says.

Even as a humanitarian worker, Irene is not shielded from the day-to-day challenges facing ordinary citizens. “There are times when I cannot get food. Sometimes there is not enough water and I have to stay thirsty…There are few or no toilets in the village…” she says adding that long drives on rough terrain are back breaking.

Villagers in Magai Village, located in rural South Sudan, love working with Irene.

“Working in South Sudan has been a humbling experience. It has taught me to see things differently and stop taking some things for granted, especially God,” explains Irene. The people she meets daily tell her that they wouldn’t be alive had it not been for God’s grace. Seeing what they have to go through, she knows it’s true.

We’re proud to spotlight Irene on this #WorldHumanitarianDay

Today, on World Humanitarian Day, we recognize Irene Nyambura, a humble servant to God and to the communities she works with in South Sudan. Thank you, Irene for all that you do to help train, grow and equip communities with the tools that they need to thrive and succeed for generations to come.

 

 

Homeless – but not without hope – in South Sudan

One year ago, World Concern staff were evacuated from Wau, South Sudan, when armed conflict broke out in the area where we’re working. Although our team was able to resume work within a few weeks, for tens of thousands of people, life is far from returning to normal. More than 40,000 are still living in squalid camps around Wau.

A young man crouches over a piece of leather he’s fashioning into a shoe. Shoemaking was not ever in his plans, but for William George, one of 12,000 residents of the Cathedral camp near Wau, South Sudan, it’s how he spends his days.

“I am a graduate of Catholic University, faculty of agriculture and environmental science,” says George. “But because there is no job, it’s not good to beg, so that’s why I decided (to start shoemaking). I don’t want to be idle. That’s why.”

William George is one of 12,000 people living in the Cathedral camp near Wau, South Sudan. The university graduate is making shoes to survive.

One year after the conflict broke out near Wau, very little has changed, except that the population of the camps here has multiplied.

“It seems as though someone is in a jail. You are not free to move. I will just stay here till night and then I go inside and sleep. In the morning, I will just come like this. There is nothing new. You eat, sleep. There is no improvement or anything,” explains George.

At the Cathedral camp, where George is, World Concern is distributing shelter materials in partnership with IOM. While the materials provide a welcome shelter from the rain, camp life has been extremely difficult for families who fled here.

Food prices continue to skyrocket on a daily basis, and many people are surviving on wild leaves. But, recently, even wild leaves are being sold at the market.

Women in South Sudan collect wild leaves for food. Recently, even leaves are being sold in the markets as a means to survive.

Another 39,000 people are living in a camp outside the UN base near Wau. Things are equally difficult there.

“We are stranded here, no food to eat, people are getting sick, no shelter and no school,” said Regina Augustino, a mother of four whose husband was killed in the conflict.

“When the rain falls, this is the worst part of my life here,” she says, holding her youngest. “If I look down, the water is reaching my knees; what can the young children, like the one I am holding now do? If I don’t properly hold him, the water can carry him away.”

But there is no escaping the rain.

“All of my children were crying including the eldest who is about 14 years. When I asked them, ‘Why are you crying?’ they asked me, ‘Mother, don’t we have an alternative place to settle because in this place we are dying. If not at all, we better go back to our old home so that we can at least be rescued from this rain.’ Life was not easy. If we go back we will be killed, I told them.”

Regina and her children huddle inside a makeshift tent at a camp for families who fled violence in South Sudan.

Regina survives by collecting firewood and selling it. “I buy anything that the money can buy, and give it to my children. That is how we cope.”

For George, Regina, and thousands of other families living in South Sudan’s camps, their only hope is peace.

“I hope for a better life, a good future. At the end if there is peace and stability, there will be hope for a good future,” said George, who leans on his faith. “In certain situations, people may think that God is not there, but as a believer, I believe that God is there. If it were not for Him, I would not be surviving up to this moment.”

Regina, too, looks to God for help. “I pray for peace in our country … I have hope that if peace comes someday. We will be able to rebuild our lives.”

World Concern is providing emergency assistance to displaced families in South Sudan. You can help here. We’re also partnering with One Day’s Wages to transform the village of Ranguo as part of a long-term plan for sustainable development of this community. You can join us by donating here.

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Akol Akol (far right) talks with some of the kids he served. This picture captures his love and passion for seeing the lives of these precious young men transformed. Akol Akol passed away suddenly on July 6.

Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.”

Many of you have heard the sad news of the death of a World Concern staff member in South Sudan. Akol Akol was playing soccer and sustained an injury, was rushed to the local hospital where he died 30 minutes later. He was a much beloved staff member who knew the Lord, and worked as a peace maker in his community.

Peter Macharia, our Africa Area Director, wrote this word of tribute:

“I’ll miss Akol Akol. He started soccer teams in Magai and Mayen and the young team loved it a lot. Through soccer he would share the love of Christ and engage young men on how to better their lives and stay away from crime. When I last visited South Sudan he asked me for more soccer balls. He also brought me his new wife to say ‘hi.’ They were expecting a baby.

He was deeply loved by all those that met him. He was also deeply passionate about his work, loved World Concern, was always eager to learn, and full of laughter. When he joined World Concern in 2012, he couldn’t speak a word of English, but within a very short time, he would engage in an English conversation as if it was his mother tongue. He longed to see Magai and Mayen transformed. We will definitely miss him. We are praying for his dear wife.”

Our team in South Sudan thanks you for your prayers. They spent today with Akol Akol’s family. We are praying for God’s comfort and the peace that passes all understanding to stand guard over their hearts. Through it all, we trust in the goodness and mercy of our Lord, knowing that this is not the end. We take comfort in that blessed hope of life everlasting with our Lord.

We are so grateful for the opportunity to have known and served with such a kind and good heart. We pray now for his family and our precious team in South Sudan as they grieve this great loss.  

God bless you,

Jacinta Tegman, President
World Concern

 

The tiny grave that broke my heart

A few weeks ago I made an urgent trip to South Sudan.

As much as you can prepare to visit a country that’s been ravaged by war, and now has over two million of its people displaced … I simply wasn’t ready for the scale of this crisis.

The statistics alone are overwhelming—thousands of people killed, more than two million displaced, 700% inflation—but when you realize there are real stories behind these numbers, it takes your breath away.

I was hiking back out to the road after visiting a remote World Concern project when I saw her.

She was standing alone beside a simple mud hut, so I slowly began walking towards her. As I came closer, I noticed she was standing next to two mounds of dirt … graves. One was dry and sunbaked. The other was smaller, and piled with fresh dirt.

I looked up at her, searching her face for signs of what had happened. Her name was Uduru.

In whispers she told me that her husband had died a year ago. But then, her eyes shifted to the tiny, fresh grave. She said that just a week ago she buried her sweet 2-year-old boy. He had died hungry, the victim of a combination of malnutrition and a water-borne disease. On top of his grave were two tiny plastic shoes, this grieving mother’s only physical memory of her baby boy.

Buried next to his father who died one year ago, Uduru buried her precious 2-year-old son just two weeks ago.

Uduru has three other children, each one is fighting to survive. I couldn’t speak. And just held this poor woman in my arms as she wept.

South Sudan is in the midst of a catastrophic food shortage, where thousands of people are on the brink of starvation.

It’s in places like South Sudan where World Concern is working to meet the urgent needs of people like Uduru and her children.

But we can’t do it alone.

We’re working through local churches to reach families displaced by the crisis with emergency aid—tents and tarps for shelter from the rain, mosquito nets to protect them from malaria and other deadly diseases, hygiene kits, and life-saving food. But sometimes there is just not enough, and that’s why your help is needed.

Decades of fighting in South Sudan will have a major impact on future generations.

The crisis in South Sudan is very real. During our emergency distribution I held a small child in my arms. He was probably only 3 years old. His pencil thin arm told me that he is already severely malnourished.

His mother had been standing in line all day but sadly by the time she got to the front of the line, our supplies had run out. We simply didn’t have enough to meet the need. She came to me pleading if we had more. She had been left out. I looked at her and the others behind her that had the same question. In faith I told her, we will be back.

Children of War

Photo by Christena Dowsett
Photo by Christena Dowsett

I woke up last Saturday morning in my 72 degree house, safe in my cozy bed. Birds chirping outside my window and thoughts of doing yard work today on this peaceful Saturday.

Little did I know, at that very moment, gunfire was erupting in a town in South Sudan. Bodies were strewn in the streets and families were running for their lives to the bush.

But God knew, and He redirected my thoughts. I had fallen asleep the night before reading an intense book about World War II. My pleasant early-morning meditations were interrupted by images of the horrors people suffer in war—especially children, who don’t understand what’s happening around them. All they know is that their parents are scared, chaos surrounds them, and “home” is wherever they can find a place to curl up and sleep that night.

These images haunted me as I got up to pour a cup of coffee. As a mom, I have such a strong instinct to protect my children. My heart aches for moms who are unable to keep their children safe. And it’s happening to millions of children around the world today.

Working at World Concern, I have to be mindful not to become anesthetized to the circumstances I hear about every day. A mother scooping up her child and fleeing gunfire in terror. Waking up the next day on the hard ground, enveloped in sweltering heat to hear her child crying because of hunger pains. Panic when she realizes the child is not just hungry, but sick with fever.

I can’t ever let this become “normal” to me.

14-year-old Mary waits for a hole in the ground to fill with muddy water so she can fill her water can.
14-year-old Mary waits for a hole in the ground to fill with muddy water so she can fill her water can.

I took a sip of my coffee and thought of the people in South Sudan whose tragic circumstances seem to get worse each day. A colleague who had recently returned from a visit told me he saw children picking leaves off of trees to eat to quell the hunger pains. I felt sick. He showed me a video he’d shot on his iPhone of a 14-year-old girl scooping scum-covered water from a hole in the ground, bees swirling around her head as she waited for the hole to fill up again.

“Sometimes I wait several hours for enough water to fill the hole again so I can scoop more,” she told him.

The water Mary collects each day is filthy.
The water Mary collects each day is filthy.

I pondered this as I sipped my cream-sweetened coffee, which suddenly tasted extraordinarily decadent.

And then I pick up my phone to see an email that our team was evacuated as violence erupted in Wau town, the base for several new villages in our One Village Transformed program. I prayed for the hundreds of families who lost loved ones in the fighting and for those who had fled in terror.

Earlier this month, I had barely noticed the automatic withdrawal from my checking account. $33. That’s my humble gift each month to that 14-year-old girl’s village outside of Wau.

It’s not much. I spent about that on a new shower curtain liner and cat litter at Fred Meyer yesterday.

Photo by Christena Dowsett
Photo by Christena Dowsett

But I felt a twinge of relief when I thought about that gift this morning. God reminded me I was doing something. That $33, combined with yours and someone else’s and others, is enough to do some amazing things in this one village. Not just a meal far better than leaves for today, but empowerment for the parents in her village to plant colorful, vibrant vegetable gardens that will supply many nutritious meals. It will help them dig a well where she can collect cool, fresh, disease-free water every day—without having to wait for a mud puddle to fill up. It will enable her to attend school, learn to read and write. And she’ll be introduced to a group of neighbors who meet twice a week under the shade of a giant tree to sing worship songs and study the Bible in her native language, allowing this child of war to experience peace in the midst of turmoil.

Village prayer. Photo by Christena Dowsett.
Village prayer. Photo by Christena Dowsett.

She will see her neighbors working and starting small businesses and thinking about the future, and it will all be new and different and hope-filled. She will begin to see the possibility for a better life and focus beyond waiting for the water hole to fill or picking leaves from a tree to eat.

I’ll never miss that $33 from my checking account each month. But it will mean a child of war is fed and cared for and a village in South Sudan is transformed.

You’ll Never Say These Two Words Again

“I’m starving.”

You’ll hear this idiom more than anything else at my house. But I heard something this week that has convicted me of many things; most notably the way we speak.

But first let me assure you, I do feed my children … and they’re not starving.

I’m sure if they think hard enough, they’ll remember that they ate today. Many times. Their bellies are full, their eyes are bright and they’re able to move … not crippled over in pain from not having food in days … or weeks. They aren’t drinking fetid water from a hole in the ground that’s teeming with insects. Or pulling dry leaves from a nearby tree to stay alive.

No, they aren’t starving.

“You want to know how sick and hungry we are? Then let me show you the tombs of my two children.”

I quite literally gasped when I heard this.

My hand then covered my mouth … I felt sick … I couldn’t speak … tears filled my eyes.

The dad that uttered these horrifying words lives in a South Sudanese village. His name is Martin, and he has such a grieved stare in his eyes that I could barely stand to look at. His children were hungry. And he’d lost them because of it.

MartinNyiloang

And when I think of these little ones … their tiny graves … and this father’s despair … I can’t help but feel completely distressed about it. And so I should.

I could have kept his children alive. But if only I knew …

If you’ve read this far I now have to tell you the rest of this story—his village is full of hungry children.

After wrestling with the guilt that I probably threw away enough food to have kept this man’s children alive, I realized something greater. That I owe him so much more than just my feelings.

I have to tell his story … and honor his children.

South Sudan is a mess right now. A young country that should still be bathing in the celebration of independence is instead caught in a web of raging violence … economic disaster … and dire food shortages. Poverty is tightening its grip and the poorest people can barely breathe.

But there is always hope.

As I respond to the wretched hunger and unfolding crisis in South Sudan, part of me yearns to share this father’s story with my own kids.

Especially the next time they tell me they’re starving.

Walking a mile in their shoes

I recently visited remote villages in South Sudan; a brief visit that has left me journeying through unexplored trails in my own heart.

One experience especially stands out.

It started during a village meeting, in which several ladies in Mayen offered to take me to their homes, to witness the impact of our projects – each terming her household as the “most transformed.” So I settled on visiting just three who stated that their houses were nearby.

Walking the last stretch to the homes I visited in Mayen.
Walking the last stretch to the homes I visited in Mayen.

Strapped for energy and time, my plan was to make a quick dash and back; but some plans don’t unwind as neatly – at least not in the field.

In an entourage of about 10, composed of residents and World Concern staff, we set off and immediately picked pace.

We walked and walked, trudging through snaky paths set on brownish grass amidst isolated huts and trees as the hot South Sudan sun stared down at us.

After a non-stop 45 minute walk, I let my protests be known.  “I will go no further,” I swore. “Let’s turn back now!”

“But we’re just near,” the translator said, a line he repeated whenever I aired my calls of surrender, which was several times more.

Angelina, in front of her home.
Angelina, in front of her home.

It would be an eternity before Angelina Mir’s house came over to meet us. By then I had protested a handful more times hesitatingly agreeing to keep going each time. What’s the use of walking all this way and returning without a story? I kept thinking.

We finally arrived, worn and dusty. My interior was that of an angry man.

Angry at myself for suggesting the trek, angry at myself for forgetting to carry a water bottle, angry at the residents for ‘lying’ about the distance, angry at our vehicle for being unable to snake through the slender paths, and thorny shrubs – places never before driven on. . .

Then it dawned on me.

This heavy trudge for me was a normal  walk for residents. My discomfort at having no drinking water for just a few hours, was a way of life for them (we only came across only two shallow wells, whose water we wouldn’t pour on our heads let alone drink). The hunger I felt was a lifestyle for them.

PondThe people we serve live with these inconveniences every day.

Yet under the seemingly hopeless situation, they are determined to make their lives beautiful.

Angelina for instance borrowed a loan of 200 SSP ($36) from a micro-finance group started through World Concern. That loan ended up saving her son’s life. Four-year-old Marco Anae urgently needed surgery. His stomach had swelled and become intolerably painful from an intestinal blockage. He vomited spurts of blood and lost consciousness as it swelled on.

Angelina Amir and son.
The hefty scar on Angelina’s son’s stomach shows the extent of his emergency surgery.

Although the normal reaction for community members is to sell livestock when in need of money, being a member of the  Buak kukopadh (Let us go after something good) micro-finance group saved her income, as well as her son’s life. “I didn’t sell a goat. It’s a long process which involves taking the goat to the town center where it may stay for up to two days before anyone purchases it,” she explained.

Within only a day of borrowing, she was on her way to hospital – a journey that entailed a two hour long trek carrying Marco before boarding a vehicle to the next town. The loan helped facilitate expenses to the hospital and Marco’s new nutritional demands as the surgery was offered at no charge.

Her group of 21 women has so far saved 2205 SSP ($400) from which they borrow loans to boost their business and repay with interest. Angelina owns a total of 13 goats, one cow and lots of chickens. Besides boosting individual finances, some of the members have their spiritual lives nourished at nearby Pascal Catholic church. Through afternoon adult literacy classes at the church, Angelina is now able to write all her group members’ names!

Some views along the way:

Vegetable garden
Small vegetable garden demonstrates the possibilities that abound in the area.
Church under tree
On our way we came across Pascal Catholic Church which Angelina attends. This Under-the-tree church with logs for seats accommodates up to 250 people on Sundays seeing congregants also take part in adult literacy during week day afternoons.

On our way back, my mind was heavy in thought contemplating how impatient I have been whenever residents show up an hour or two later than scheduled. I realized it takes them just as long to walk to our meeting areas – even longer when rain falls; and mostly they come with parched mouths, empty stomachs, having already handled hundreds of roles, that especially make a woman who she is in the areas we work.

Yet they smile.

Angelina Amir 1b

They have a strong will to keep going no matter how rough the trudge is.

IMG_9267b

This experience has brought me face to face with myself.  Until now I thought I was patient, determined and perseverant among other countless virtues, but the people I met in South Sudan beat me at it. They roundly beat me at it.

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Through One Village Transformed, World Concern and several partner churches are supporting Mayen village through protection of clean water, food production, livelihoods and robust microfinance. The project is a journey we’re taking alongside the community.  You can be part of it. Here’s how.

Helping South Sudan Move Forward

With the support of our donors, lives were saved, protected, and transformed in some of the world’s poorest places in 2014. Hungry families were fed, people in crisis were given shelter, and entire communities received abundant clean water.

Displaced before they could plant crops, many in South Sudan face imminent threats of famine and starvation.
Displaced before they could plant crops, many in South Sudan face imminent threats of famine and starvation.

One of the biggest challenges of 2014 was reaching families displaced by civil war in South Sudan. The problems affecting the world’s newest nation are extremely complex. Many families are still homeless, living in tents or under trees with no shelters. Prices have skyrocketed because of the war, leaving poor families unable to buy food or essential commodities. There is also a looming threat of famine – because they were displaced during the rainy season, many were not able to plant crops. As a result, the annual hunger gap, which is fast approaching in April, is expected to be worse than usual.

Achol was nine months pregnant when she fled with her children after fighting broke out in her village in South Sudan’s Unity State. “I ran when I heard gunfire and saw people running,” she said. “I left with nothing.” Achol gave birth outside – alone – after arriving in a makeshift camp. “I had no food and no blankets. I delivered my baby and spent two days outside. Then I made this shelter,” she said, looking up at the flimsy tent made of sticks and tarps that sheltered her children.

Families like Achol’s need help resettling and rebuilding their lives.

Donations in 2014 helped provide food, shelter, and emergency assistance for many families like Achol’s. Now, families like hers need to move beyond life-saving, emergency aid and rebuild their lives with plans for a better future. As we usher in the new year, we are leading communities in South Sudan to move beyond crisis and relying on short-term hand-outs towards lasting change. Our focus in 2015 includes long-term initiatives, such as:

  • Providing seeds, tools, and training in sustainable agriculture to farmers
  • Sharing peacebuilding skills and reconciliation in communities torn apart by violence
  • Educating children, turning their dreams of a better future into real opportunities

It’s clear that the situation is South Sudan is complex. People like Achol face immense challenges and have great needs. But at World Concern, we refuse to shy away from complex problems because things are too hard. Rather, we tackle these challenges head-on, walking alongside the families in South Sudan into recovery and helping them rebuild their lives.

Though these situations can seem hopeless and overwhelming, we put our full confidence in God – He alone can change lives and circumstances. He can bring peace to any situation, and nothing is too complex for Him. He has called us to be His hands and feet, and equips us with what we need to help the families in South Sudan and other challenging places. As we enter 2015, we rely on the ongoing support of our donors to help families and communities to move beyond crisis towards restoration, healing, and transformation.

Flex! Young boys in South Sudan show their resilience in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Flex! Young boys in South Sudan show their resilience in the midst of difficult circumstances.

One Year Later, South Sudan Remains in Turmoil

In December 2013, the world’s newest nation, only two years into a season without war, plunged back into crisis-mode. Though the explanation for this eruption of conflict is far from definitive, one thing is clear – South Sudan is still hurting.

As we approach the one year anniversary of this newest conflict in South Sudan – a land that has suffered almost continuous war for over two decades – we (the world) need to remember that this war persists and tensions are only growing. And, as we so strongly believe at World Concern, we remind ourselves that war is about so much more than politics and land and resources. It is about the thousands, if not millions, of people whose lives are torn apart.

According to the UNHCR, South Sudan now has more than 1.4 million internally displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes. Additionally, tens of thousands of people (at this point an exact number is difficult to track) have lost their lives.

Though there has always been community tension and a scarcity of resources, we have never ceased to see the country for its potential to transform. When South Sudan gained independence in 2011, we celebrated with them. Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived. South Sudan has faced immense challenges over the past three years. The recent conflict is bringing the nation to the brink of famine and starvation continues to be a very real risk.

Since the country’s independence, World Concern has focused on empowering South Sudanese communities to move beyond a state of relief and toward long-term development. Eager to farm their own land, feed their own children, and be educated, people have been more than willing to take part in their community’s development. In fact, many of the communities we partner with now have their own gardens, banks, savings groups, job opportunities, and thriving markets.

But many others were displaced from their homes and land when violence came dangerously close to their communities. As a result, hundreds of thousands were unable to plant crops before South Sudan’s annual rainy season. Because of this, many will go hungry this year. And too many are still homeless, living in squalid camps, waiting for peace.

Mary (right) and her newborn son sit inside a vacated school they now call home.

Last February I traveled to South Sudan to visit Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, sit with people, and listen to their stories. Among the many painful narratives shared, I will never forget Mary YarTur’s. Nine months pregnant when violence broke out in her village, Mary had no choice but to run.

“Both of my neighbors were killed when we were running,” she solemnly explained. “My uncle was also killed.”

After days on the run, Mary and others settled outside of a closed school building. Two days later, she went into labor.

Women sit outside of the school where Mary gave birth.
Women sit outside of the school where Mary gave birth.

“At the time I delivered I was feeling bad. My body was in pain and it was not well,” she shared. “During the time I came from my home in Unity State, I was running with little food. Then I delivered right away when I arrived here.”

In the three days I spent visiting camps, Mary was one of five women I met with newborn babies – a small representation of the thousands of children that have already been born without medical assistance beneath trees, outside of buildings, and underneath haphazard shelters.

A silhouetted pregnant woman rests at an IDP site.
A silhouetted pregnant woman rests at an IDP site.

“My child was delivered outside, now they have problems,” Mary told me. “I’m not feeling better now. The food we have to eat takes a very long time to cook – and when I eat it it gives me stomach pains. So, I don’t eat much – I feel weak and faint. I live in fear because I don’t know where my husband is and I sleep in the open, many days without food and no income.”

Sick, taking care of a newborn, husband-less, without food, homeless – it’s no wonder so many people feel hopeless.

A Bleak Future Without Development

Because of the recent crisis, funding for development projects has reduced. Life-saving disaster response efforts are vital, but without the ability to fund long-term projects, the country’s development comes to a halt.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced families have fled northern South Sudan to Warrap State, where we work. With no choice but to build makeshift shelters on land that was once someone else’s farms, their presence is a cause for tension and puts a strain on local resources.

The majority of the people we serve know at least one person who has been killed. Thus, a large portion of a family’s resources and time have been spent on hosting and traveling to burial services.

Additionally, the South Sudanese pound continues to lose value against the American dollar, skyrocketing import costs and consequently making many resources unbearably expensive.

“Foreign exchange is low. Prices of commodities are rising every day. Many markets are in short supply of essential commodities,” said a World Concern staff member in Warrap State. “The chamber of commerce has attributed this to lack of dollar in the market. Given that he country heavily relies on import of food, fuel, and almost all essential commodities, shortage of dollar in the market spells doom for ordinary citizens of the country.”

Much of South Sudan’s younger generation was born into war, thus all they know is war. When asked, many say they would love to live in a world without war, yet most of them have no idea what that would look like. Because of this, instilling the notion of hope and the possibility of change can be a very complex process.

We believe that we have been called to South Sudan for a reason. And we believe that reconciliation, peace, and healing are possible. We know that the One who created us all, can surely bring hope and peace to the seemingly hopeless circumstances in South Sudan. And despite the horrible things we, as humans, do, He is still holding out for us, waiting patiently and moving us toward a world renewed.

So today, this morning, this evening, whenever you read this, though you may feel bombarded by a world of painful things, we ask that you remember South Sudan and pray for peace.

And please continue to pray for South Sudan’s leaders – that they would lead with integrity. South Sudan was recently ranked the 5th most corrupt nation in the world. Also, pray for safety, healthy, and strength for our field staff – they are the hands and feet of world Concern.

Please consider giving a gift to bring hope and life to the people of South Sudan.

In the midst of pain, in the depths of suffering, under the tarps of IDP camps and tin roofs of refugee shelters, we know that there exists a surpassing peace and hope for a world transformed.

 

For The Love of The Game

4 - Returnee Biz Kuajok -Sudan_092small

Dust flies as the boys’ feet shuffle across the dirt, their laughter piercing through the quiet late afternoon. The lush green bushes sway with the slight breeze, the sun beating down on their backs as they pass a worn soccer ball to each other. There’s nothing unusual about this playful pick up game – soccer has been played all over the world for centuries. But there’s one small detail that makes this scene extraordinary. The boys are from the Dinka and Nuer tribes – two tribes that have been at conflict with each other for generations.

In South Sudan, the main tribal groups include the Dinka and the Nuer. These nomadic tribes highly value strong warrior ethics. In fact, young men primarily achieve social status by raiding each other’s cattle herds. Young men in these communities, raised to make up a bulk of South Sudan’s guerrilla armies, grew up in a generation of brutal war and tribal tension. This tension is especially prevalent between young people that were educated in the North and those that grew up in the rural villages of the South. Many young people in the South resent those that had the opportunity to attend school in the North, away from the harsh realities of the war.

But among the thorns there are always wildflowers of hope peeking through. In Kuajok, South Sudan, one young man’s passion for loving others – and soccer – is sparking incredible ethnic reconciliation.

After receiving an education in the North, Akol Akol returned to his home village of Kuajok to work as a World Concern staff member. Rather than becoming discouraged by the fighting and disunity he saw in his community, Akol saw an opportunity to use his experiences to pour into the lives of others – and decided to take action.

Inspired by his passion for soccer, Akol organized two neighborhood soccer teams and began meeting with the community’s youth every afternoon for practice, as well as organize tournaments on the weekends. The tension between the Dinka and Nuer youth eased as relationships were built, and soon the constant fighting greatly declined.

There’s something truly beautiful about the way the mutual love of a sport unifies people of all different upbringings together – age gaps and cultural differences fade to the background as the love for the game takes center stage.

The older kids, inspired by Akol’s gentle spirit, began to recognize their responsibility to look after the younger children. The cycle of hate and prejudice began to break down, being replaced with one of acceptance and teamwork.

“He felt that soccer could be a form of reconciliation because they don’t need to be able to talk a lot, they just need to be able to understand the rules of the game and play together as a team,” explains Jane Gunningham, a World Concern staff member that worked closely with Akol. “He just had a heart for peace. He saw something specific he could do, something he knew how to do, and he just did it.”

Changing the world isn’t as hard as you may think. It doesn’t require daunting, expensive, over-the-top plans. It only requires a willingness to practice sincere kindness and invest in others at an individual level.

But sometimes, in a world with so much suffering and brokenness, it can be hard to know which action to take. That’s where World Concern comes in. Through World Concern’s numerous programs, hope isn’t just a distant idea; it’s a tangible reality. Through campaigns such as One Village Transformed, World Concern is committed to pursuing reconciliation and empowering the poor, so that they may in turn share with others.

Consider your passions. What’s that one topic you can’t stop talking about? What social issues make your heart ache? How can you imagine a way to respond to global poverty? For Akol, it’s reconciling community through soccer. For me, it’s protecting children through education. For you, it could be a number of things, from providing clean water to teaching job skills to empowering entrepreneurs.

One of my favorite quotes is by a 20th century cultural anthropologist named Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” How true and encouraging that is.

Just like the way a single skipped stone creates dozens of ripples, it only takes a one act of kindness to set off a tidal wave of reconciliation throughout a hurting world. Whatever cause it may be that tugs at your heartstrings, I encourage you to consider taking a step of faith and seeing where your passions take you – it’ll be worth the risk, I promise.