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.

Real transformation comes from within

There was no complaining or pleading for more help at the goodbye ceremony in the village. Only a sense of empowerment and hope for the future. It was a true celebration. This village was ready to stand on its own.

water pumpThe tiny community of 40 families in rural Mon State, Myanmar, was “graduating” after seven years of development. Things look very different here than they did seven years ago, but maybe not in the way you’d expect.

There’s are several protected wells that supply clean water, and an absence of human waste on the ground – things you’d hope to notice after an NGO had been working there. The fields surrounding the village are producing abundant rice, and crops are thriving. Families are earning income, and children are healthy. But in terms of traditional rural village life, it is lived much like it has been for decades, maybe centuries.

rice fieldWhy? Because these changes came from within. All credit goes to the village development committee, made up of residents and community leaders, not World Concern.

Instead of dependence on our organization, the residents see our staff (who live and work amidst a cluster of local villages) as true partners. Relationships are built on mutual respect and empowerment, not a provider-beneficiary model. We are a catalyst to change, but not the change-maker. People taking responsibility for and pride in their community produces change.

Poverty is messy. The absence of trash and human waste is one indication people here care about their environment. But the real difference is seen in the confidence on people’s faces. They know they can continue moving forward on their own. This village is ready to say goodbye to World Concern – and this is our goal. We want to work ourselves out of a job.

babyWhat’s the biggest difference in the village? According to one grandma who has lived her all her life, “Our babies aren’t dying anymore.”

All the training, supporting, educating, and encouraging for seven years comes down to this: children are surviving. That’s transformation.

There’s a lot of talk about sustainable community development. Other than occasional follow-up visits from a development officer, how do we know this method is sustainable? Here’s a great example.

vegetable ladyRecently, one of our staff members visited an IDP camp in another region of Myanmar. Hundreds of families had fled their villages when the fighting came too close and threatened their lives. The staff member noticed that the families in the camp were well organized. They had taken their horrible circumstances (not enough food, no water or sanitation, and cramped quarters) and made a plan. They were working together to solve problems and meet needs.

“Where did you learn how to do this?” the staff member asked a man who appeared to lead the resident committee. “World Concern taught us when they worked in our village,” he replied.

These displaced families were able to replicate and use their skills in a camp when life took an unexpected turn and they were forced from their homes. And when they resettle back home, or in a new village, they’ll be able to do it again. That’s sustainable change.

To learn more about transforming villages like this one, visit worldconcern.org/onevillage