Nine months pregnant and carrying her 2-year-old in her arms, Mary ran from her home in Unity State, South Sudan, where widespread violence has killed and injured thousands of people since December.
“Both of my neighbors were killed when we were running. My uncle was also killed,” said Mary. “When we were fleeing, my husband’s brother was shot. So my husband carried him to hospital. They are now in another IDP camp. There is also a woman I know who has lost her son. When we were being collected in the truck, the boy was left behind…”
Driving up a long, dusty dirt road, haphazardly created structures line the road as far as the eye can see. This is Mary’s temporary “home,” a camp for families displaced by the violence in South Sudan. Tents made of the only available materials – sticks, women’s clothing, old plastic bags, sheets, and pieces of canvas are scattered everywhere. Some people sleep under branches, without any covering at all.
Mary arrived at the camp just three days before giving birth to her second son. She named him Amel. She delivered Amel outdoors, with no help.
Can you imagine?
“At the time I delivered I was alone. I was feeling bad. My body was in pain and it was not well,” she said. Fortunately, someone felt compassion for her and allowed her to take shelter in a school building nearby.
Like thousands of others who fled for their lives, Mary doesn’t have food or even a pot to cook food, if she had any. She was given some beans and flour, but sold some for oil and salt to cook with. “We fear now that if we eat twice a day the food will be gone and we don’t know when we’ll get more,” she said.
And they’re sick. Amel has diarrhea – very dangerous for a newborn. Mary has stomach pains whenever she eats, too.
The rains have arrived early in South Sudan … not good news for families like Mary’s who are living in makeshift tents. Flooding and poor sanitation make diarrhea and sickness an even greater threat.
World Concern is responding in this area, providing shelter materials, emergency supplies, and food to displaced families. We’re also providing long-term support, so families like Mary’s can resettle, earn income, and begin to rebuild their lives. Click here to help.
“My heart is beating in fear for two reasons,” said Mary. “One, I don’t have a house. I just sleep in the open or in the school. Secondly, I don’t have my husband. Sometimes I spend many days without good food because we have no income.”
You and I can’t change the political situation in South Sudan, but we can do something to help
Mary and other moms whose “hearts are beating in fear” tonight.
We asked Fiona to share her heart for helping nonprofits raise awareness and fund through her beautiful jewelry designs. Here’s what she had to say:
At Carpia we believe that you can incorporate “doing good” into everyday life.
Spending most of our time at work, what better way to do good than making products that give back? Originally a jewelry design company, we decided to design gifts that support charities worldwide.
Knowing our every decision is one step closer to supporting a good cause, we design better, work harder and create faster. Every stone, every charm and every detail of packaging are geared towards attracting supporters for the world’s greatest causes.
We chose World Concern’s One Village Transformed project because the project focuses on long-term solutions such as clean water, fighting hunger, providing job skill training, and micro-financing to enable village members to break out of the poverty cycle and be self-sustainable.
The project is the epitome of the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Now that’s a project worth supporting!
We designed the World Concern bracelets with agate beads embellished with a caterpillar and the butterfly charm to reflect this transformation.
When you wear or gift your One Village Transformed bracelet, you help fund and raise awareness for the villagers of Lietmhom, South Sudan.
Bracelets are available at www.carpia.org. *Free shipping during the month of October!
This is a guest blog post by singer Jenny Simmons, who recently traveled to South Sudan with World Concern to see the great need in this country and witness the transformation taking place with the help of her supporters.
It is a simple memory—but one that haunts my mind.
The sound of rain coming for me.
Last week in Lietnhom, South Sudan, I slept under a tin roof (one of the only tin roofs in the village; everything else is thatched) during one of the biggest thunderstorms I have ever heard in my life. The rain sounded like an army. Constant, steady, violent, encroaching. Angry. All night long it pounded away at the roof like artillery fire.
It is odd to sit in my living room today and watch the soundless rain roll off my shingled roof.
Like most of South Sudan, there is no electricity in the village of Lietnhom. So when it is dark, it is very dark. And when bolts of lightning strike, they pierce the sky with an unbelievably cruel, taunting brightness.
It must be scary as a small child to live in a hut with a thatched roof and no electricity during a thunderstorm.
It is utter darkness. No sound of cars in the distance. No highways. No stadium lights or street lights or sirens. Can you even imagine that kind of darkness? That kind of silence?
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.
In fact, the truth is,I was scared during much of my trip to South Sudan.
The people were kind beyond measure. They offered us the very best of every single thing they had. Their food. Their beds. Their friendship. Still, I found myself lying in bed each night praying several different prayers of desperation.
“Lord, please send a UN helicopter to come get me.”
“God, if you’re gonna end the world somehow, someway—tonight would be a perfect night for you to go ahead and do that.”
“God I will do anything—I will serve you anywhere—if you will please, please just deliver me from this place.”
It is with great shame that I confess: My solution, as I interacted with people living in extreme poverty, was to beg God to put an end to the world. Or at the very least, send in a special UN convoy to rescue me from latrines, mosquito nets, cold showers, no electricity and the really scary thunderstorm in the black of night that rattled the tin roof above my head like an army, coming to pillage.
Just because I spent a few days in the bush of South Sudan doesn’t make me a saint or a hero or even a humanitarian. I’m not. I straight up spent most of my time praying for the apocalypse just so I would not have to pee in another bush on the side of a dirt road. Is that really end-of-the-world worthy? I think not.
If you make any conclusion about me based on my trip to South Sudan, conclude this: I am scared and selfish.
Scared to eat food that comes out of a tin shack with mud floors and barefoot women. Scared to eat the chicken on my plate (because I swear he was just roaming around my bedroom window a few minutes ago). Scared to use the latrines, convinced that the horrific smell has created some sort of critter that will come out and eat me. Scared to sleep in pitch black darkness. Scared to hold a baby that may not live to be a little girl. Scared to hug a momma who has to bury that little girl. Scared to look at both of them in the eyes and imagine it being me and my little girl. Scared to love them and see them as people … because what if I go home and forget about their stories? Forget their cries for help?
“No milk. No milk,” the momma shows me her breasts, drooping and empty, “You take her.” And she tries to hand me her four-month-old baby.
Scared to look her in the eyes—scared that seeing her as human means I must act.
Scared that the problem is too big to be solved.
Scared that the only solution is death.
At the end of the day, I was just scared.
Though the country was beautiful and the people I met were amazing… the truth is, I couldn’t get home fast enough. When I got to Washington, D.C. my dad picked me up from the airport. I asked if we could go straight to a restaurant for breakfast. I scarfed down croissants and muffins. A latte. In a pastry shop that serves the up and up of Washington, D.C. elites. From there I went straight to the store and bought a new outfit. A razor. Body scrub. Face wash. I showered for nearly an hour. An entire hour of wasted water and gas. And then, we went out to eat again for Mexican food. I ordered $10 table-side guacamole. By the time I caught my flight back to Nashville I had spent more money in half a day than the families I had just been with, spend in a year.
And the spending and eating and gluttony on all levels was cathartic. A sort of cleansing of the poverty via a frenzy of money spending. It was like something in me needed to spend money. Needed to consume. Needed to re-ground myself in wealth and comfort as quickly as possible.
And that speaks to my own selfishness. My own poverty.
An unhealthy dependence on the things of this world to make me feel comfortable and happy.
So now you know the truth. I am just a girl. Mostly scared. Mostly selfish. Entirely out of her element in the small village of Lietnhom, South Sudan. Praying, begging for some end-of-the-world moment, simply so I could be delivered from my own discomfort.
Poverty does that to us. It makes us uncomfortable. And if we can just get to the center lane, so we don’t have to pull up right next to the homeless person on the corner and look them in the eyes, we have saved ourselves the discomfort of having to know and having to act.
The truth is, my trip to South Sudan with World Concern was one of the hardest trips of my entire life. And I feel like a baby saying that because my teammates joyously snapped pictures, conducted interviews, pooped in latrines without complaint and ate the poor little pet chickens without hesitation. But for me, it was hard. It was hard on my body and soul. It was an affront to every single way of life I have ever known.
South Sudan was hard for me.
We are all a little scared to stare poverty in the face. And we should be.
Poverty displays the very essence of our brokenness as people. Those living in it and the rest of us … avoiding it. We both operate out of poverty.
Jesus came to alleviate poverty. He didn’t avoid it. In fact, in the New Testament, many times Jesus went out of his way—literally, through different villages and cities in order to stare the broken, hurting, poor, widowed, ostracized people in the eyes. He looked poverty in the face, in order to give hope. Other times, he went out of his way to teach those with wealth what it truly looked like to follow him. To give away possessions, and more importantly, to be willing to follow His lead even when it meant personal comfort would be diminished. He knew that people were either impoverished in their spirit or in their possessions. A lack of faith or a lack of bread were the same in His eyes—and he sought to shine new life into both kinds of people.
We go where God sends us. To the least of these. And the truth is: we’re mostly too scared and too selfish to do this on our own. But God walks us through our greatest fears.
So at the end of the day, I do not stand here a proud girl, telling you of all the amazing things I did to serve the poor.
I stand here as a girl who prayed for a UN helicopter to come rescue me. And instead, found a Savior who gave me strength, comfort and overflowing power and love to stare poverty in the face and at the end of the day—to sleep through the storm.
This year I celebrated my very first Independence Day as a resident of the U.S. In fact, I was able to celebrate my nation as well, by catching Canada Day celebrations a few days earlier!
Last year, I missed the fireworks, as I witnessed the birth of the Republic of South Sudan and joined the Independence Day celebrations there. The South Sudanese understand the cost of freedom, having spent almost 60 years embroiled in civil wars. The streets of Juba, Wau and every other town in South Sudan were jubilant. The end of war and the power to decide their own fate were on the minds of every new citizen, and the words to the hastily released anthem were being tripped over with joy.
But the 10th brought a return to reality: more than 700,000 refugees and displaced people, many homeless and unemployed, were crowding into a nation where more than 50% live on less than $1/day, only 27% of adults are literate, and 78% of the population depends on crop farming or animal husbandry as their primary sources of income.
As they look back at their first year of independence, the price is still being paid. In what has been called a “write-off” year, the country has been plagued with a litany of difficulties both internal and external. Within a month, attacks and bombing along the border with Sudan recommenced, and tribal conflicts within the country caused another wave of displacement. While the government tried to build an economy and fuel the growth of their nation, corrupt officials stole billions, and economic disputes over oil led to the decision to shut down the oil pipeline which provides over 90% of the national revenue. Flooding in some parts of the country and drought in others has caused food shortages, malnutrition and illness. This is a long way from the euphoria experienced one very long year ago.
The South Sudanese, however, are more optimistic about the future than outsiders looking in. Just as they stood behind their leaders during the long battles for independence, they are digging in and building a better future. Some have taken up voluntary collections to support government expenses during the economic crisis. Schools are growing on a daily basis, as new citizens move back. Schoolchildren paint the future on walls, describing the construction of schools and hospitals. Children can dream big, but they can’t eat dreams.
This has been a year of growth for World Concern in South Sudan as well. We are providing emergency food to more of the estimated 2.4 million food-insecure people and helping more than 20,000 new mothers with nutrition supplements for their children. In partnership with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, we are building classrooms as fast as possible to shelter eager young learners, and sponsoring young adults to attend vocational training centers. Recognizing the importance of agriculture and fishing to both income and food security, World Concern is helping kick-start farming and fishing associations with tools and training, as well as engaging new government officials in protecting natural resources, such as rivers and woodlands. We are seeing progress, one community at a time.
One of the things celebrated on the 4th of July is liberty, which is something very few of us truly understand. The people of South Sudan have not achieved the end of the road to freedom yet, but through the past year, despite many obstacles, they have persevered. As they stop to catch their breath, looking back at the year that was, and looking forward to the long road ahead, those of us who eat the fruits of independence need to lend our support to those still in the struggle to attain it.
The following story was relayed by one of our fieldworkers, Jane Gunningham, who is currently serving in South Sudan.
Marco and his wife live in a recent “housing development” near Kuajok, South Sudan, for returnees from Sudan. The first time he met our staff, he told us that his dream is to have the car that drives in the field (a tractor) so he can have a very big farm.
Marco and his wife joined our rent-to-own program and received a bicycle and some pots, pans and chairs, since they had nothing of their own. Shortly after beginning to use the bicycle for work as a messenger/delivery man, Marco’s house burned down in a suspicious fire. All of their hard earned assets were lost, but Marco’s first words were praise to God that none of his precious children were lost in the flames. “Things may be restored,” he said, “but lost life is final.”
When we suggested that World Concern reschedule his payments, he refused, saying that a debt is a debt. We offered him temporary work at the seed fairs, and he has proven to be utterly reliable, passionate about serving the poor, and uncomplaining no matter what we ask of him.
I know his finances are precarious, and there are days his family does not have enough to eat, but Marco affirms that God, who cares for all, provides what he needs.
I was deeply touched one day, when he asked to sweep the spilled seeds from the bed of the truck so he had sorghum to take to his wife. He had been handing out seeds all day to others, knowing that at home his wife had run out of food. As he carried the small bag of grain home, he said to me, “Look: God does not forget the faithful.”
World Concern helps protect children and empower people living in poverty to improve their lives, and protect themselves from becoming victims of injustice. If you’ve been feeling led to help the poor and oppressed, here are some simple ways you can take action.
Help transform a village in South Sudan by providing education, job skills, food security, clean water and better health to the families living there. Visit www.worldconcern.org/onevillage to learn more.
Sign up for the “Free Them” 5k to help stop human trafficking. This event supports programs that teach children and women to protect themselves and offer opportunities to be educated and earn income safely. Even if you can’t attend the event, you can start a personal fundraiser and help spread the word.
Peacemaking is the priority of Christian Veterinary Mission in Northern Uganda. Learn how they’ve helped bring God’s love and peace to this region plagued by violence at www.cvmusa.org/PeaceVillages.
Join Women of Purpose, a group that equips you to advocate for child protection and supports programs through monthly giving that provide vulnerable women and children opportunities to overcome the factors that put them at risk.
The viral KONY 2012 awareness campaign around Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is succeeding in breaking through apathy and engaging people with the atrocities taking place in South Sudan, Congo and Uganda. For that I am very grateful. It misses the nuances of the issue, but it still brings light to this injustice. I see the effects of violence and injustice as I travel to World Concern’s programs in incredibly poor places. The LRA’s reign of terror is part of this injustice, and it must end. Oppression, slavery and murder must end throughout the world.
Where does someone like Joseph Kony come from? Wherever people have more power than others, there is oppression. Where people have no power, they are taken advantage of, exploited and abused. Oppression happens in every nation in the world. Kony is a clear example that is being brought to light. We need to shine that same light on violence and injustice, as well as their sources, and take the discussion beyond a single person.
It is our nature to seek simple solutions. In some ways this is as simple as Kony needs to be stopped. But that is where the simplicity ends. In this case, an army must be demobilized. The cycle of poverty that creates vulnerability to abuse needs to be broken as well. Empowering people through economic security is the best defense against the Konys of this world.
Capturing Kony would be a huge victory and one we would all celebrate. But unfortunately, it won’t end the violence in South Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or other places. As strongly as this campaign advocates for involvement by the U.S. government to defeat one person, let us advocate for the long-term work of defeating extreme poverty and its ripple of devastating effects.
Real change takes time. This film took nine years to produce and it is just a call for change. The best solutions are not imposed from outside. Walking with the people affected to solve complex problems brings sustainable change.
We need this new found awareness of complex problems to lead to a shift in our sense of responsibility for the suffering around the world. The best aid is not delivered in a day by westerners, and of course, it cannot be solved over social media. I see dramatic change in the lives of vulnerable people when we help equip them with tools to take control of their own destiny long-term.
If the 70+ million people who have watched KONY 2012 get engaged and fight global injustice, it will have a significant impact ending oppression in these difficult places.
World Concern staff member Susan Talbot, a technical specialist in commodities, logistics and disaster response, is in South Sudan this month. The following is her account of a visit to one remote village where we’re working.
Today, our team traveled to Menaba, a three-hour journey by Landcruiser over a road that would be impassable to most vehicles. We are accompanied by tsetse flies that swarm over the windows and hood. Phillip, our security officer based out of Nairobi, says the flies are wondering why they can’t find blood on this elephant. It’s the end of the rainy season and the grasses on the sides and at times in the center of the road are 6-8 feet tall, snapping as the vehicle charges through and over them. As we hit flooded holes, the muddy water splashes on the windshield.
As we reach Menaba, our staff is finishing up distributing food – salt, dried beans and sorghum – to women with children. Some are displaced from other parts of South Sudan and others are returnees from Darfur. They’ve been settled in a nearby camp for about a year. Hunger and malnutrition are evident in the toddlers’ patchy hair. This is the end of the hunger gap, which starts in April. The gardens are producing and the marketplace has peanuts, tomatoes, watermelons and cucumbers. But the families in the camp have no land to farm and no resources to buy food. The women greet us like long lost relatives; so welcoming, so grateful.
Women with toddlers gather under a large tree to receive their monthly ration of Plumpydoz, a nutritional, peanut-based food that addresses malnutrition in 6 to 36-month-old children. Nearly 500 children have been registered at each of seven distribution sites in Raja County. Each family receives four containers per child—one container per week. The child takes a tablespoon of Plumpydoz twice a day. The supplement will help the child grow physically and mentally during a crucial period of development. Without adequate nutrition like this, a child’s health is compromised for the rest of his or her life.
We go over the hill to see World Concern’s school feeding program in action. The children crouch around their common bowl of cooked sorghum, four to a bowl, girls on one side of the yard, boys on the other, eating with their washed hands. The feeding program acts as an incentive for school attendance. It’s good to see so many attending school — about 400.
We are invited to join the school principal and some teachers under a tree for lunch. We sample the same cooked red sorghum the children are eating. I expect a bland taste of cooked grain cereal, and am surprised by the good flavor. Phillip sees a group of boys kicking around a soccer ball and quickly organizes a competitive drill, then divides them into teams for a game. He manages to communicate, even with his limited Arabic. Games and laughter transcend language and culture.
I am particularly drawn to a little boy of a young mother. He’s 3 years old and infected by intestinal parasites. Bloated bellies have many causes, but his mother confirms she sees the worms in his stool. After spotting him, I notice several others in a similar state.
I have experienced the heartache of having a child die from an incurable condition. When I make eye contact with this mother, I see the question on her face. Do you have something that will cure my child? For this mother and this child, hope exists in the form of a tablet that costs 44 cents.
Don’t take anything for granted. It’s something that was evident to me while witnessing an amazing life-passage for 34 people.
I attended the first graduation of Lietnhom Vocational Training Center in South Sudan. Thirty-two men and two women, for the first-time ever, now have skills to earn a living.
These men and women never finished school. Only one made it to high school, and dropped out after one year because the school fees were too expensive. Others had some elementary school; others had no education at all.
Most of them never really had a chance. War here in Sudan forced many of them to move as refugees in their own country. Finishing school hardly an option, considering they faced generations of poverty – and no history of education.
One man I met is named Joseph, and he traveled here to this rural area from Wau. He’s apart from his family, but considers the year here as a great investment in his family’s future. He celebrated today, reminded of South Sudan’s independence one month ago from Sudan. The independence brings hope of peace at last.
“I give thanks to God,” Joseph said. “The life of Southern Sudan and my own life are synonymous. It is a new beginning.”
Joseph showed me one of his new skills: repairing engines. With confidence, he scoured the engine of an old World Concern truck to try and identify an electrical problem. He’s smart – and has a great chance to find work close to his family.
“None of my forefathers have had these skills,” he smiled, as he proudly waved his certificate for completing the program.
World Concern began this job-training program last year, and since then, other non-profits have joined us in the mission. The work is difficult, and certainly not a hand-out.
The leader of the program, Mechanics Trainer Moses Khamadi, says the students grow more committed over time.
One graduate now plans to complete secondary school, which gives him a shot a college. Moses says there are many opportunities for these new graduates.
“The mechanics are already fixing motorbikes locally and making money,” Moses said. “Initially when we began, some thought they were wasting their time. But they began to realize that if they work, they’ll get money. They can buy food and something to improve their livelihoods.”
Although the context differs, I see this spark of life time and again when visiting World Concern development projects across the world. When we work in a meaningful way with people, they realize that life is not hopeless. They realize they have value. In spite of their poverty, they find reason after reason to continue on.
The birthday party is officially over, and now the Republic of South Sudan has a lot of growing up to do. After three days of celebration and festivities, today the people of the new nation have to face the reality of a very difficult uphill climb. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which culminated in secession this weekend, was a six-year “peace” that involved almost daily fighting. This followed a 20-year war with more than 2 million casualties.
Unfortunately, human lives were not the only casualty of war. Currently, 75% of South Sudanese do not have access to basic healthcare. There are only 20 secondary schools in the entire country of 10 million people. The past few years have seen an influx of more than 2 million refugees from the North, further burdening the underdeveloped system.
Dropout rates in South Sudan are the highest in the world, with less than 25% of children in school. Of the students who do make it school, more than 80% are in temporary shelters, and less than 15% have desks and chairs for the students. Finding a teacher is also difficult, as the adult literacy rate is less than 25%. Girls suffer the most. In 2004, as few as 500 girls finished primary school.
“We need basic education for our children,” said one mother. “The government promises free education, but there are not enough schools. Then we need to provide a uniform and a registration fee [costing about $67]. We don’t have money for schools.”
This awareness is the first step toward change. Adult literacy, especially for women, has shown the value of education, and enrollment is up every year. The government does, however need support. In Kwajok, more than a thousand students still attend class under a tree – and bring their own chair. Teachers have class sizes as high as 100.
World Concern is working with the Ministry of Education in Warrap State to build more classrooms in Kwajok, and together with UNICEF, established a new school.
In addition, we are expanding enrollment in our vocational school, to allow more men and women the opportunity for literacy and job skills. In a rapidly growing economy, demand for skilled trades is high, and these graduates are being employed by the government and NGOs, or starting their own businesses.
The road ahead is long, but for the South Sudanese, it is a worthwhile journey. Education is vital to the survival of a nation. Without it, people will continue to suffer, even with their political independence. World Concern is excited to walk the road of opportunity with the people of the Republic of South Sudan.
Chris Sheach is World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response.