Category Archives: Emergencies in Darfur and South Sudan

South Sudan: Preparing for independence

"Independence means freedom" says Satimon Luate, speaking in Juba, South Sudan. Credit: Kim Pozniak/CRS

By Kim Pozniak

When I arrived in South Sudan’s future capital Juba yesterday, the joyous preparations for independence were immediately apparent.

Landing at the airport, another passenger pointed out the newly installed lights along the runway to allow for night flights. Everywhere you look there are small signs of progress.

Driving along Juba’s bumpy, dusty roads, you see women cleaning the streets. Signs for the long expected independence have been put up along small storefronts, on crumbling walls and white washed tree trunks.

Spending my first day in Juba, I spoke with many people about their hopes and dreams for the new nation. I want to tell you about two of them.

Taban Benneth, 25, works as a driver for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and plans to see the celebrations firsthand so he can tell his children and grandchildren that he was there when the flag was raised for the first time.

“I’m really happy to see our first president of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit. signing the constitution and raising the flag of South Sudan,”  he said. “As southerners, we need to unite so that we can built a new nation. Without forgiveness we won’t build a new nation. We have to see those coming from the outside as brothers and sisters because the new nation needs joined hands. We can’t do it alone.”

I also spoke with Satimon Luate, a 43-year-old father of five who works as the warehouse manager for Catholic Relief Services.

Satimon plans to spend the day with his family to “witness this liberation”. He wants the new nation to bring a bright future for his children. He hopes that they won’t see the same suffering as people of his generation. They witnessed a civil war that plagued Sudan for decades and cost millions of lives.

“We’ve been waiting for this day,” said Satimon. “Independence means freedom, and we’re going to get all that we never had before. We will be free to do anything in our new country.”

Although Sudan is experiencing heightened tensions and even conflict in some of its border regions, the people in Juba seem reluctant to let this reality cloud their hopes for the big day on 9 July. Satimon, who was one of the nearly 4 million people who voted in South Sudan’s referendum in January, describes the mood in Juba as festive, with people slaughtering goats and dancing in the streets.

As the sky over Juba is growing darker and darker tonight, signaling a heavy thunderstorm, the preparations for South Sudan’s big day continue, and with it the hopes and dreams that so many here share.

This blog post was written by Kim Pozniak, Communications Officer for Catholic Relief Services, a Caritas member, who will be blogging for CI on South Sudan’s Independence on July 9.

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Delivering help in Sudan

Andy Schaefer, CRS technical adviser for emergency coordination, was in Agok as part of the Caritas response in Sudan that supports  more than 100,000 people forced from their homes by recent violence in the contested border area of Abyei. CRS is a Caritas member.

The situation here in Agok is still very fluid. It’s been a few weeks since their displacement from Abyei, and you still see people coming and going. Some are leaving to go further south while others are arriving because they’ve heard from the government that it is safe to return.

This is the planting season, so people are trying to make decisions about what they’re going to do over the next few months for food. It is important to them to be able to get seeds into the ground to harvest crops in the coming months. Their very livelihoods are in jeopardy.

Markets here continue to be bare. Prices are so high, especially fuel, that even the truckers or vendors that under ordinary circumstances would bring goods to the local market, aren’t doing so because they’ll either break even or lose money on the transportation. The incentive to bring items to sell is not there.

Catholic Relief Services and the Caritas network are coordinating with other humanitarian aid agencies to get supplies to those most in need. Like a rock thrown into a pond that forms concentric circles as the ripples fan out, we’ve looked to see where other agencies are working and are responding in the peripheral areas where they’re not reaching.

We found that for the most part people in the city of Agok are being assisted but those small villages outside of the main city have not been helped. CRS and Caritas have been able to go out into the bush to find pockets of the displaced.

We’ve distribute plastic sheeting, blankets, soap, khanga cloth for women, and 14 litre buckets with tops. We have enough supplies for 4,300 households or around 17,000 people.

We’ve relied greatly on the help of local parish priest Fr. Biong to help us identify central locations for distributing these supplies. We don’t want people walking too far to receive assistance, but at the same time people are spread across a large geographic area and we can’t logistically go to every small grouping. With the help of Fr. Biong we’ve been able to pinpoint areas that are easy to access.

We have selected four large villages as sites where people can come from surrounding communities to be registered. While the village is made up of traditional mud tukuls, round huts with conical grass-thatched roofs, our target population prefer to seek shelter under trees. People have no shelter. When it rains everyone runs for shelter in a central place like a Church for cover. After the rains stop they go back outside.

One area of we’ve been particular successful at in past emergencies is helping to provide people with shelter. With the rainy season swinging into high gear it will become increasingly more important to make sure that people are protected from the elements. We’re still deciding what that will look like, but it will definitely involve a self-help model. We want the communities to be able to build their temporary homes with us providing expertise such as carpentry to guide them through the process. It’s important to clarify that many of the people we’re seeing are women and their children and the elderly. The majority of the men stayed closer to Abyei in the hopes of returning when it becomes safe.

The roles of men and women are fairly well divided here in Sudan. While most of the men have the carpentry skills needed to build temporary homes many of the women will need help in this area.

I’m working with people on the ground, the displaced themselves to see what type of shelter model would be the most useful to them. We’re taking the customer satisfaction model approach. We want to make sure that whatever shelter solutions we provide will be useful and not something they’ll simply discard.

We definitely don’t have all the answers. It is imperative to get input from the people we’re serving. They are the ones who are the most knowledgeable about what will be the most helpful to them. Their voices help to guide our work and teach us how to become better as an agency. This requires asking questions. We want to know what their future plans are now so that we can gauge how we did and formulate future responses so that we can be of better service.

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Filed under Africa, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Darfur and South Sudan, North America, Peacebuilding, South Sudan, Sudan, United States

Taking the long view in Sudan

Andy Schaefer, CRS technical adviser for emergency coordination, was in Agok as part of the Caritas response in Sudan that supports  more than 100,000 people forced from their homes by recent violence in the contested border area of Abyei. CRS is a Caritas member.

One thing that has become apparent to me while working to meet the needs of those displaced from Abyei is that the Church’s presence really is a symbol of hope.

A few Sundays ago during Mass, local parish priest, Fr. Biong gave a speech about helping people to rebuild their lives and the need for continued support during this difficult time. This is such an important message for everyone to hear: the displaced, host communities, and those working to help meet their needs.

Priests like Fr. Biong help people to feel that they have not been abandoned. He continues to be with his people seeking refuge in Agok, by ministering to their spiritual and physical needs. To watch him work is very affirming. The sense of solidarity he fosters is palpable.

It’s at times like these that I think of Oscar Romero and a poem, Taking the Long View, it has a line that says we’re not the master builders we’re the bigger picture. It’s a wonderful reminder to me of our place in the world as humanitarian aid workers.

There is also an expression, “a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.” We’ve taken these steps of support in the past and we take them again in this journey of reaching out to the people of Abyei. There is something comforting knowing that these steps will continue to be taken long after I leave. There is a real constancy created in people’s lives by the Church, Catholic Relief Services and the Caritas network.

The Church provides moral and spiritual support while we help tend to their physical needs such as water, food and shelter. The other day a woman came to speak to Fr. Biong. Her husband was recently killed. The challenges people face here are real and palpable. Sometimes when we read these stories in a newspaper it’s just a headline. When you’re on the ground the reality hits you and it can be very saddening.

It is heartening, however, to see the role that the Church plays. Even at this time of staggering loss, the Church continues to minister and support people who have lost homes and loved ones. CRS and the rest of Caritas help to support the pastoral mission of the Church by providing other needed services that help compliment the whole person. It is one step, but it is an important step in helping people back to the road of self-sufficiency.

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Filed under Africa, Aid Success Story, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Darfur and South Sudan, North America, Peacebuilding, Refugees, South Sudan, Sudan, United States

Compassion in action in southern Sudan

Andy Schaefer, CRS technical adviser for emergency coordination, is in Agok, Sudan working to assist some of the more than 90,000 people displaced by recent violence in the contested border area of Abyei, Sudan. CRS is a Caritas member. He shares with us his impressions from the field.

Whenever a person responds to an emergency situation you have to face the grief and loss of those affected. There is so much work to be done and so many people who need assistance. It is also in these moments that you see the real face of humanity and the deep compassion people can show to their fellow man. I’ve seen two such examples since arriving to the Agok area of Sudan.

Agok is a town that used to number about ten thousand but has recently swelled to the tens of thousands since conflict broke out in the neighboring town of Abyei. The International Organisation of Migration estimates that more than 90,000 have been displaced. A large percentage of the displaced have found their way to Agok, which is only 25 miles from Abyei.

In general, it is next to impossible for people in Agok to squeeze out a living. A natural disaster, bad luck or man-made conflict can wipe out a family’s reserves. Despite this, I’ve seen numerous families in Agok open their homes to the displaced. They share the burden of those who fled the violence by providing them with shelter, food and water. They’ve cobbled together a support structure to help their countrymen weather these difficult times. Of course this is not a sustainable solution –the host families will soon run out of supplies. Assisting the displaced is not a task they can shoulder on their own. But, for me, as a humanitarian aid worker, seeing their compassion and commitment to assisting their neighbors has been a heartening experience.

Assistant parish priest, Father Biong, is another amazing example of the generosity of the human spirit. He works in Abyei and has accompanied his flock to Agok. You can tell he is loved by the way people greet him in the street. Everywhere he goes he’s greeted with smiles and handshakes and the name “abuna,” which means father in the Dinka language. He’s been instrumental in our relief efforts.

Father Biong has been doing a great job of rallying people and gathering volunteers. Catholic Relief Services and the Caritas network, trained more than 30 youth volunteers in emergency response last December. Father Biong has been helping with our work. They are all local residents and they all speak the language, so he’s been working with them to register people to receive our assistance. In the process he’s been troubleshooting conflicts. When people feel like they’re not receiving the help they need, he sits down with them and explains the process.

He helps to personalize our work and is able to go after unmet needs. While we focus on the big picture of getting much needed supplies into the area he is able to really drill down to the heart of things and address people’s more personal problems. For example, many of the elderly had to flee without being able to gather their medications. Father Biong finds out what prescriptions they were taking and works his connections to get them their medicine or provides financial assistance for them to purchase it on their own.

It’s been tremendous being able to work with Father Biong and the rest of the Church in Agok. They’ve opened their doors to us and have been sheltering us while we work in the area. It has been really wonderful to be able to work with them and see the impact that the Church has on this community.

This article first appeared on CRS Voices.

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Conflict in southern Sudan drives people from Abyei

Andy Schaefer, CRS (Catholic Relied Services is a Caritas member) technical adviser  for emergency coordination, is in Agok, Sudan working to assist some of the more than 90,000 people displaced by recent violence in the contested border area of Abyei, Sudan. After an eleven hour journey by plane and car, the CRS team arrives in Agok.

As we drove we passed blossoming trees, cattle, goats, and sometimes people walking along the road and carrying whatever belongings they could salvage. Some carried mattresses while others escaped only with the clothes they had on their backs. The closer we got to Agok, on the second leg of our trip, the more people we saw on the roads. Makeshift camps covered the town. Every available space was filled with people. Storefront verandas teemed with sleeping children and women nursing babies. There was no privacy. Whatever items they owned lay at their feet: a plastic sleeping mat, a piece of fabric to towel off, or a cooking pot.

The market was teeming with people. The stalls were fairly barren and what was available was marked up at least 50 percent from what you would pay in Juba or Wau. But the market has become more than a place for stocking up on needed supplies, it is now the social focal point where people gather to search for lost loved ones or swap plans on what to do next.

One of our concerns is about the safety of women and children. As is usually the case in any emergency, we’re finding that many children were separated from their families. Aid agencies are working together to help reunite children with their parents.

I spoke to a group of women who fled Abyei with only what they had on. They can’t even wash their clothes because they have nothing to wear. There is no privacy in the camps. For me what is most striking is how difficult it is for people to maintain a modicum of dignity when they’re sleeping under trees. It’s raining. There is no shelter.

When I say people are sleeping under trees I mean literally sleeping in the mud. The rains also increase the mosquito population and the risk of malaria. For those who are stronger it’s okay, but for anyone who is sick or facing post-traumatic stress these are trying times. They’ve lost everything. In addition to their homes and belongings, many of the displaced had food stocks they had saved up for summer or seeds to plant for the harvest, all of that was most likely lost. Tools and wheelbarrows or shovels and hoes are valuable assets. For a subsistence farmer, losing these items is like losing your life savings.

Catholic Relief Services’ first steps will be to provide immediate emergency services in coordination with the Caritas Network. We will distribute plastic buckets for collecting water and bathing, plastic sheeting for shelter, rope to tie that sheeting to trees, mosquito nets for malaria prevention, khangas (traditional cloth worn by East African women) for privacy walls or to serve as clothing for women, and hand soap to help with disease prevention. There are no toilets and people are relieving themselves in open areas. This could become a huge health problem after heavier rains.

While there are some hand pumps for people to access water, they don’t meet general humanitarian standards of filling up a 20-litre container in in less than a minute. This leads to long lines and even longer waits. Women are waiting for hours under the hot sun. I saw two of them begin fighting over whose turn it was when they finally reached the pump.

There are so many stresses: a lost child, lost homes, no privacy. They are accumulating and causing outbursts. As a humanitarian aid agency we have to do all that we can to help alleviate this suffering and help improve living conditions for all the displaced.

Despite all this suffering and challenges the people of southern Sudan are resilient and will overcome these hardships again. The courage and strength of these people, despite all these life threatening situations, is inspiring. Their hope and vision of looking to the future encourages our team to find community based solutions to help those in need.

This post has been edited by Caritas Internationalis. To see the original article please visit CRS Voices

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Live chat with bishop from southern Sudan

Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala. Credit: Caritas Europa

The first miracle in Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala’s life happened when he was just a few months old. During a military raid on his village in southern Sudan, soldiers entered his family’s house and killed his mother and sister. They left baby Eduardo unharmed and didn’t burn down the house.

Now, 47 years later, he is the Bishop of the Diocese of Tombura-Yambi, and he continues to devote his life to bringing peace to Sudan and to South Sudan which becomes an independent nation on 9 July.

Caritas member Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will be hosting a live chat with Bishop Kussala Stay with Sudan. Build a future on Wednesday, June 15 at 1 p.m. eastern time in the United States. Bishop Kussala will answer your questions about his life, the current situation in Sudan and his vision for the future of a new nation.

Find out how to join in with the converstaion on the CRS blog.

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Pentecost celebrations in run up to South Sudan independence

The Sudanese Catholic Bishop's Conference in South Sudan (SCBC-SS) has launched a programme of prayer and action leading up to independence of South Sudan on 9th July 2011.

As part of programme of prayer and activities leading upto the independence for South Sudan on 9 July, the Sudanese Catholic Church will be blessing and planting trees of life to mark Pentecost this Sunday 12 June.

Each diocese will plant a tree as a symbol of new birth. From Sunday until independence day, families, institutions, schools and parishes are being encouraged to plant trees.

The Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference in South Sudan says, “We, as the people of South Sudan symbolically plant trees throughout our new country. Some of these trees will produce medicine, a sign of healing from trauma and war; some of the trees will give fruit, signs of hope and promise.

“As we plant these trees, we ask God to bless us and all of creation.”

Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio has been helping to organise the initiative. He said, “The planting of trees is very meaningful, trees have life and also grow so slowly and can live for many years. The young plants need care, love, healthy conditions in order to grow. We see that for the young nation to grow and take root it needs good hands, conditions, love and care.

“The Pentcost is the birth of the church, the begining of the life of the church, the young church needed discernment, care, love, work and dedication. Pentcost gives life varieties of types of trees and unites all as one people.”
Among the activities planned, there will be a worldwide novena (nine days of prayer), a workshop on Catholic social teaching in August, a symposium on the church in South Sudan, past, present and future in October, and cultural events towards the end of 2011. will be publishing the novena and a special prayer, and featuring reports of all the events from its communications staff on the ground.

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