Timely vote in Sudan is needed to keep peace

Vocational students in Sudan
Students are learning mechanics at a newly opened vocational school in Sudan. This is just one of the ways World Concern is helping improves lives in southern Sudan.

Media coverage of Sudan’s upcoming referendum scheduled for a vote in January 2011 has increased recently as the date draws closer and President Obama spoke on the issue at the UN General Assembly last week. World Concern works in southern Sudan, and the relative peace in that region over the past five years has allowed us to make great progress in extremely poor communities.

As a humanitarian agency, we limit our involvement in the political processes of the countries where we serve. We know, though, that violence hinders our work – and we expect violence if the vote is delayed. Therefore, we hope and pray for a peaceful outcome to the process this January.

Dave Eller, World Concern’s president, shares some thoughts below. He visited Sudan in June and saw firsthand the struggles people face there to overcome decades of war and violence – many of whom lost everything in a conflict they didn’t support.

“On a recent trip to southern Sudan I overheard many conversations about the referendum that is to take place in January. The people of southern Sudan are very anxious to have this vote take place as scheduled. They seem to believe that if the vote does not happen as scheduled it will be postponed indefinitely and may not happen. There is fear that if the referendum is not held there would be a return to violence.

The peace accords that were signed attest to the fact that is it is possible to end fighting. Turning back from the decisions made five years ago would seem to be a significant step backwards. While I am not an expert on Sudanese politics, it is easy to see the benefits that peace has brought.

In this time of relative peace since 2005 significant progress has been made in the development of the South. The people have had the opportunity to start rebuilding their lives. In World Concern’s work we have seen schools reestablished, businesses started, food provided equitably, and community health programs get underway. A return to violence would put the progress that has been made at risk.

The remains of a burned house in Sudan
This is all that remains of a house that was burned during violence in Sudan, which has ceased since a peace agreement between the north and south of that country was reached in 2005.

The referendum needs to be more than just timely. The voting needs to be free and fair.  The voices of the people need to be heard in this very important decision-making process. The people of Sudan desire to have a voice in their future. They have shared with me their heart to see a future lived out in peace and not conflict. The answers may or may not be found in this referendum, but clearly if it does not take place, or if it is not free and fair, it would be a step backwards.

It is my prayer that the leaders of north and south Sudan would find resolution to the remaining issues so that the people of Sudan might live in peace. Sudanese parents I spoke with desire to raise their children free from the threat of violence and war. This is what every parent would want. As international communities we should continue to hold all of the leaders to that standard, and recognize that the solutions must be found to keep from plunging the country back into civil war.

This is a critical time in the history of Sudan. It is a critical time in the lives of millions of people. Let us remember our brothers and sisters throughout the country of Sudan in our prayers.”

Lost Freedom in Eastern Chad

Ache stands inside a hut in Chad.
Ache faces a daily struggle to survive in the Djabal refugee camp in Eastern Chad.

Ache is a strongly built woman. The skin around her eyes is smooth in spite of the graying braids that lie half hidden under her head covering. Her face wears a look built out of determination and survival and years of waiting. She has been in this camp in eastern Chad since 2004. She knows she may never go home.

In Sudan, she tells us, she lived in a large and prosperous village. She had a beautiful life: fields of millet, sorghum and peanuts along the wadi, gardens rich in choice, and an irrigation pump to lighten her work. Her three children were free to go to school, and together the community built a preschool so mothers could have time to rest and socialize.

Her house was made of adobe, with a metal roof: safe from fire, a good place to store her dowry chest and gold jewelry. She would travel to weekly markets in nearby towns, selling grain or vegetables and bringing home clothes, shoes and school supplies. Her husband traveled to the big cities and returned bearing sacks of sugar. In Sudan, Ache was free.

And then, everything changed. Ache’s face goes still and hard as she thinks about the hate campaign that started the troubles.

“The janjaweed came to our village with guns and fire. They stole our cattle, slaughtered our donkeys and burned our fields. As they broke down our granaries and houses we ran for our lives, scattering into the bush, I in one direction and my husband in another,” she said. “So many of our neighbors and our family members didn’t escape. Men and women, elderly and babies; their bodies lay untended, unburied for days. When the janjaweed finally left we buried the dead in pits and mass graves. I had only my clothes and my children. I had only the hope of reaching some other village before we were lost to hunger and thirst.”

Eventually, trucks came from the NGOs. They rounded up batches of refugees and drove them several days to the camp. Bewildered and traumatized, Ache’s family waited under plastic tarps. “But there were no guns. There was peace, and a place to rest,” she recalls.

When they first arrived in the camp they were lent a small plot to farm, but without access to water it failed. Now her husband spends most days looking for day labor in town. Sometimes he is lucky. Sometimes they resort to selling part of their daily ration. Her 16-year-old son has left the camp to look for work somewhere unknown—probably back in Sudan, although at last news he was still in eastern Chad. One day she will find him, if she can get the money to travel after him.

She focuses on the blessings in the camp: her daughter spreading sorghum from the distribution rations to dry in the sun; the gate into her neighbor’s yard and the gourd plant that reaches over it. She wonders whether she will ever again have the chance to plant and reap her own fields.

“What I wish for,” she says with a trembling voice, “Is a chance to work. Last year, when World Concern was here, I worked on the rock lines. I had money to buy a pot and meat to share with my neighbor. We are not the same tribe, but we live together. We shared out my work days and the money.”

“Thank you,” she says, “for coming so far, for leaving your families and coming to help mine. Surely God will bless your generosity.”

Story by J. Gunningham, World Concern Program Support Officer, Djabal, Chad

Cooking up new business in Sudan

This woman is named Awal. She opened a new restaurant and has already seen $30 in profit in 12 days.
This woman is named Awal. She opened a new restaurant and has already seen $30 in profit in 12 days.

This is a story straight from a poor village in South Sudan. World Concern President David Eller is visiting Sudan right now, checking out how we are equipping the local people to learn skills and live better lives.

On Wednesday we drove out to one of our field locations about two hours away on a dirt road.  There were military checkpoints along the way.  At one such stop our Sudan Country Director, Peter Macharia, had to get out and talk for a while before we were allowed to continue.

This is a newly created town with many people settling there that have fled violence in other parts of the state.  Florence is one of our field officers and started working with a women’s group there in December.  They met twice a week for two months to learn skills in cooking, baking, yogurt making, grain grinding, hygiene, life, business and biblical values.

One of the women involved in the group, Arek, was pregnant during the training but she did not want to miss any of it.  She would lay on a mat at the back of the group to listen and learn.  The baby was born between classes and she was at the next class with the baby in her lap.

The group calls themselves Pundak which means doubting the government.  They went to the government for help and received none.  Now that World Concern has come and their situations have changed, they have talked of changing their name.

Each day they bake rolls in a new charcoal oven they bought from profits, which does a better job than the brick oven they used to use.  They sell a bag of ten fresh rolls in the market for $2.  When we arrived they were finishing a batch of rolls.  Nothing like bread fresh from the oven-the rolls were warm and tasty.  They also make 40 liters of yogurt a day to sell in the market.  They have built a restaurant out of tin sheets to start a lunch time business and catering services.

Awal is another group member who has a difficult past. She has five children and her husband has moved to Juba, abandoning the family with no support.  She could only afford to send one child to school so she sent her young son, Aken.  School costs $10 a year plus a $10 uniform and writing materials fee.  Awal said she was very miserable.

After joining the women’s group and receiving training she became the lead baker for the group.  With her share of the group profits (30% of sales) she has been able to care for her family and has sent her older daughter Abuk to school for the first time.

Awal opened a restaurant of her own in the market just 12 days ago.  It is built from wood poles covered in plastic tarps with a hard dirt floor.  There is a cooking area up front and a customer seating area in back where she serves local dishes and fresh bread.  In her first 12 days of operations she has made a $30 profit.  I was very impressed that she knew her profitability.  It is not an easy concept, but she said she was well trained by Florence to keep track of profits.

Awal is a great example of a life being transformed.  She, and others like her, are the reason God has called us to this ministry.

This oven looks a little homely, but works great as a tool this woman uses for her baking business.
This oven looks a little homely, but works great as a tool this woman uses for her baking business.
A woman learning business skills had this baby and was back in the next class because she didn't want to miss out.
A woman learning business skills had this baby and was back in the next class because she didn't want to miss out.
The building in the background is a newly built restaurant, opened by village women.
The building in the background is a newly built restaurant, opened by village women.

3 Padlocks Keep Village Money Safe

Three people are needed to open the three padlocks on this savings box, ensuring accountability.
Three people are needed to open the three padlocks on this savings box, ensuring accountability.

I received the message below from a dusty village in South Sudan. It’s from World Concern President David Eller, who is there visiting the people we serve.

He’s seeing how their lives are changing as they save money, grow businesses, and plan for their futures.

Talk about accountability … it’s fascinating to see how the savings group ensures everyone is playing fairly.

Here’s Dave’s post:

I started the day in Juba, Sudan half way to Wau from Nairobi.  The airport was a chaotic crush of people with about four times as many people in the small ticketing area as the space should hold.  By pressing through the crowds, Diane Bricker (Africa area director) and I got checked into the 90 minute UN flight to Wau.

When we arrived in Wau, we sat with Peter Macharia, the Sudan country director, and some of the program staff at the office.  We reviewed pressing issues and decisions before leaving to visit a project site.

We met a savings group under two trees in an area on the edge of town.  The area under the trees was hard packed dirt, as this is a common meeting place.  This area is where many people fleeing conflict in their home villages have resettled.  The homes are made of mud brick walls with tall grass thatched roofs.

We met outside, as the staff thought that it would be too hot inside the mud walled church where they usually meet.  For us outsiders, temperatures in the 90s are hot; here, it is a cool time of year.

The World Concern-guided savings group called Piir Path, which means “Good Life,” was seated on benches and plastic chairs.  One group member pulled their metal savings box out of a burlap bag and set it on the ground in the middle of the group.  The box had three pad locked latches on it.  In front of the whole group, the three key holders unlocked the cash box.  This is how the group assures that no one can have access to their money without the whole group being present.

Once the box is open they counted the cash in front of the group to affirm it had not changed since last week’s meeting.  This day they collected the one dollar a week agreed on savings from each member.  When the collection was done the group secretary did his math calculations drawing in the dirt at his feet.  If someone is absent they must send with another or face a 30 cent fine.  The group had roughly $200 cash.  Twice a month they make decisions about loans to group members from their savings.  They make one-month loans of around $35, on average.

A testimony was given about how the savings program seems slow at first but can really make a difference over time.  Ahok made the statement: “World Concern has never lied to us.  They speak the truth and it leads to good ends.”  This was very satisfying to for me to hear.

One of the goals in field visits is to determine how we are caring for the poor. Unsolicited statements such as this tell me the staff is connected and caring for those God has called us to serve.

Sudanese villagers do quick calculations in the dirt.
Sudanese villagers do quick calculations in the dirt.
Villagers in Sudan meet to give loans to the next business owner, and check on the progress of the savings.
Villagers in Sudan meet to give loans to the next business owner, and check on the progress of the savings.

Humanitarian Aid in Darfur

humanitarian aid in Darfur
Refugees in Darfur leave everything to escape with their lives, only to be moved yet again.

Humanitarian aid and relief groups are asking President-elect Obama to pay attention to the human rights disaster in Darfur, Sudan, as soon as he takes office. The idea is referred to as a “peace surge,” a way to reach an agreement to work out terms of peace by bringing the warring groups to the table together.

Obama may have a better chance to work out a deal right now, because the president of Sudan has agreed to an immediate, unconditional cease-fire with Darfur rebels.

Here is a link to the CNN story on the Darfur: