Category Archives: United States

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

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

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

Ideas for Lent by Catholic Coalition on Climate Change in USA

Dan Misleh, Executive Director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change

Available in French and Spanish
by Dan Misleh, Executive Director of Catholic Coalition on Climate Change

In an article appearing in U.S. Catholic magazine this coming month (April 2011—and posted in December 2010 online), I suggested that those of us in developed nations have an addiction to oil.  To overcome this addiction, we might learn from the 12-step programmes that help other addicts: realizing our powerlessness over the problem; seeking a higher power to help overcome our weakness; and taking things “a day at a time” meaning that we should consider how our daily choices have consequences for a warming planet.

What we buy, how we move, what we waste, how we conserve, how we spend our time: all of these things impact our planet and its people.

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Filed under Advocacy, Climate Change, Food, North America, United States

Pakistan floods: shelter saved us

Soomri, Inatullah, and five grandchildren sit in their shelter. Jessica Howell/CRS

By Jessica Howell, Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas member)

The early days of last August seemed fairly unremarkable for the small Pakistani village of Rajo Bhayo, until the Indus River – swollen from days of unending monsoon rains in the north – breached a protective embankment nearby and came swirling towards the village.

Villagers had about an hour to prepare before the flood hit them. “We did not understand what was happening to us when the waters came,” says Soomri, a 75-year old mother of five and grandmother of 23. Panic ensued, with people fleeing to higher ground as quickly as they could, watching their entire village disappear under rapidly-rising water.
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Pakistan 6 months after floods: Ariz’s story

Wrapped in a blanket given to him by Caritas partners, Ariz stands with his grandson in front of his shelter. Credit: Jessica Howell/Catholic Relief Services

By Jessica Howell, Programme and Advocacy Officer, Catholic Relief Services

A wizened man whose mirthful eyes suggest more mischief than age, Ariz smirks when asked how old he is.  “More than 50,” he said, to the chuckles of his friends and family standing nearby.

There hasn’t been a lot to smile about lately though. The floods that tore through his village in southern Pakistan last summer stole much from Ariz – his land, his livestock, and most painfully, his son, Nazeef, who was to be married in one month.  “I miss him very much.”
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Filed under Aid Success Story, Asia, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Pakistan, North America, Pakistan, United States