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Ethiopia’s failing rains

Women return to their village after collecting water from a spring beside a dry riverbed in the Kebele of Bishan Behe in Hararghe. Caritas supports the community. Credit: David Snyder for CRS

By David Snyder

You are not expecting rain when you come to cover a drought. But that’s what I found when I stepped off of the plane here Sunday—and what I have seen each day since. Rain. Looking around at the green of the hillsides, you could easily be fooled about the real problems facing the people here. But it doesn’t take much digging to learn how much trouble looms, where the rain now falling comes far too late to avert a crisis for as more than 11 million people.

I spent yesterday visiting several projects around  Dira Dawa A, a zone of eastern Ethiopia that has been hard hit by the failure earlier this year of the first of the country’s two rainy seasons. With the failure of the short rains, which normally fall from February to June, millions were unable to gather a harvest. Worse still, they were unable to plant the next crop—the one they need to harvest in October or November to get through the long months until June 2012. The rains falling now were due in June. As it stands now, even if rain remains strong for the rest of the season, people will still be hungry. If they fail, millions more will be affected.

What I saw yesterday were projects that have helped many former beneficiaries survive the food shortages gripping the region. Outside of Dira Dawa yesterday I met a farmer who has access to an irrigation system installed by Caritas in 2003. Though the fields around his small plot are withering, his 3/5th of an acre plot is flourishing—alive with heavily laden fruit trees and vegetable patches that will see his family through this drought.

Earlier, I met a young mother who received five bee hives through in a livelihoods project. Her old hives, she told me, produced just 9 pounds of honey each year. Her new ones—an improved variety of both bees and hive—produce 22 pounds per hive each year. That’s 110 pounds of honey she is able to sell to increase her household income even in seasons when the crops fail.

Caritas Internationalis and one of its US members Catholic Relief Services (CRS) commissioned David Snyder to visit the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat in Ethiopia.

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Filed under Africa, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Malnutrition, North America, United States

Somalis face perilous journey to escape famine

Miss Hawo Abdi sits with her mother and father at Dagahaley camp. Credit Laura Sheahen/CRS

By Laura Sheahen,

Death by starvation, death by lions and hyenas or death by armed bandits. Which do you pick? For refugees streaming out of Somalia, there’s no luxury of choice. They’re facing all three.

Carrying babies in front and toddlers piggyback, clutching small plastic bags of belongings, thousands of Somalis are trudging barefoot for dozens or hundreds of miles. For months, as no rains fell in their homeland, they watched their cattle and goats die of thirst and hunger. Their stocks of corn or flour ran out, and they watched their children growing thinner and weaker. Finally, they gave up hoping that something would change and they left.

They travel in groups of about 50 because danger is all around them: ambushes by men with guns are common in the area. So when they see something threatening in the distance, they run for what cover they can find—not easy in empty brush terrain. “We were running and hiding behind small shrubs,” says one little boy. Some refugees are robbed at gunpoint of their food and few remaining possessions. Some are raped or killed. “They took our clothes, but didn’t hurt me,” says a mother named Ambiya.

At night, packs of hyenas and lions move towards them. “Five or six lions came, and we threw stones to make them go away,” says Bishar, a father of five. “There was the possibility that hyenas would eat us,” says a woman named Amina. “They tried to attack, but we were in group” and escaped.

Some of the Somali refugees don’t even know exactly where they’ve going. “We heard there was a country known as Kenya where people are helped,” says Bishar, hugging his small daughter and looking at her dry, cracked feet.

After ten days of walking, he and his family have reached the refugee camps in the Kenyan area of Dadaab. But they’re still sleeping outside–so many refugees arrive every day that there aren’t enough tents. Some refugees use long sticks to make a dome-shaped skeleton, then cover it with whatever cloth or plastic they can find. Bishar and his family don’t have the sticks, and bandits took their clothes.

Water is available if they walk for it, but they don’t have anything to carry it in.

The official camps have overflowed with people; now refugees are setting up makeshift living spaces on a floodplain that will be a swamp in the autumn. They keep coming, faces seamed with the orange dust that rises from the road. They’ve made it past militants and wild animals. What they don’t know is what they’ll face next.

Laura Sheahen is CRS’ regional information officer for Asia. She is reporting from Kenya.

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Filed under Africa, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Kenya, Middle East & North Africa, North America, Refugees, Somalia, United States

Stay with Sudan

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South Sudan celebrates independence

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

Mass in South Sudan for a new nation

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By Kim Pozniak

A day after the people of South Sudan came together to declare their independence, they converged on St. Teresa Cathedral of Juba, South Sudan’s capital, on July 10th to celebrate a special Mass dedicated to their new nationhood.

Standing in the shade of large trees on the church compound, they waited patiently for the Mass to begin. Hundreds of people then filed into the church, taking their seats in old wooden pews, while those who arrived too late for a seat crowded the doors to get a glimpse of the Mass.

Inside, the Church was packed with people still in a celebratory mood from the weekend’s historic events. Hundreds were seated in the pews, and dozens more lined the walls of the church while the bright light of another hot day flooded the building through the open doors and stained glass windows.

Concelebrants from around the world, including a papal representative from Kenya and Bishop John Ricard of Florida, were present for the services. They walked in pairs in a processional when the women’s choir, dressed in shiny blue and orange satin robes, started singing a solemn but cheerful song, reflecting the mood that could be felt throughout the Cathedral.

When Cardinal John Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi and the Holy See’s representative to Sudan, got up to say the homily and bless the new nation of South Sudan, the crowd inside the Church erupted in cheer and applause.

“This does not mean the end of the road,” the Cardinal said. “But instead, the beginning of building a new nation.” He then went on to explain that the Holy See formally recognizes the new nation of the Republic of South Sudan as an independent nation, and once again, the faithful seated under colorful banners adorning the walls of the church cheered and rejoiced.

“We have come from far,” the Cardinal continued. “We are still far, and we are going far,” referring to the challenges that lie ahead for this newborn nation and the hope that Southern Sudanese will take on the challenge of building a country that was plagued by decades of war.

He then appealed to the new country’s leaders, urging them to put the interest of their citizens first. “Every child who comes into this new nation, remember that you will be accountable,” he said. “Do not fall into the trap that many before you have fallen into,” he appealed. “Be instruments of unity and be instruments of peace.”

He then turned his attention to the congregation and urged them to “be productive, and to continue to build this new nation.”

As the voice of the Cardinal, the Archbishop and the other celebrants reverberated from loudspeakers mounted to the church walls, the faithful in the pews applauded and cheered to the rhythm of lively choir songs, which were accompanied by handmade drums and tambourines.

The Mass then proceeded with parishioners, many of whom don’t have much to offer themselves, offering tithes to the common good of the community. After more than three hours, the ceremony drew to a close with the Cardinal once again blessing the new nation of South Sudan and the congregation singing the new national anthem.

Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, who had come to Sudan to represent the Caritas network at this historic moment, was also present for the Mass.

“I could feel the spirit of unity among Christians here. I could feel the call to unity as something very strong,” he said. “We know that in the past, the differences between tribes have been used by the powers to fuel the conflict. And now it’s really time, and everyone wants it. It’s time for unity, and to bring this diversity of the Southern Sudanese as a strength to his new nation.”

“This was one of the main messages that I heard in this Mass. It’s a good start for this new nation. All Christians, especially Catholics, together united and giving inspiration to their leaders, so that they will go the right way, away from conflict.”

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.

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Happy Birthday South Sudan

Friends and neighbours of Caritas partner Solidarity with Southern Sudan gathered at their residence on Friday, July 8, 2011. The event including children singing the new national anthem, and "Happy Birthday," to their new nation. It also included a seder dinner and a gift of saplings to help remind each family in attendance that as their country grows it will need care and cultivation to make sure that it prospers. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/Catholic Relief Services

By Kim Pozniak

Just six months after Southern Sudanese voted with an overwhelming majority to secede from the North, the new nation of South Sudan was born. Southern Sudanese turned out in the hundreds of thousands to witness the declaration of Independence of the Republic of South Sudan, and to celebrate a milestone they had been waiting for since a 2005 peace agreement that gave them the right to vote on whether to stay united with the north or form their own nation.

People from all over Southern Sudan came to see first-hand the birth of a new nation this July 9. Some said they traveled for days to make it to the capital in time for the celebrations.

“I’m very happy today,” said Alfred Gore Dimitri, who had come with his family to witness the celebration in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. “I’ve been celebrating since yesterday.”

Also in attendance at the celebration was Michel Roy, Caritas Internationalis’ Secretary General, who was seated with a delegation of Caritas partners. “There was no need for security because everyone was very happy,” he observed. “The peacefulness of the independence day celebrations is a very good sign for the future.”

Roy says he was impressed with the Southern Sudanese: “I witnessed a lot of dignity and hope for the future in their celebrations.”

Prior to the official ceremony, people gathered around the John Garang Memorial in Juba to celebrate. Dance troupes from as far as Aweil performed dances wearing traditional dress, and the sound of drums and trumpets could be heard throughout. Many had come wearing their best dresses and suits and waited patiently for hours under the blazing sun. Some cried tears of joy, and the words ‘happy’ and ‘excited’ were a common refrain.

“I’m very, very happy,” said Joseph Duku, who lost both parents during the civil war. “Today is a very historical moment. We’ve been waiting for this day. I feel at last we’re released from everything, and we’re going to gain a lot. We can see now that we’re really citizens of South Sudan. I’m now a full citizen of this nation.”

When the ceremony started, throngs of people tried to make their way to the front of the memorial where hundreds of dignitaries and heads of states were seated. When South Sudan’s first president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, made his entrance, the stadium exploded in cheer and applause, and police and military units had a hard time holding people back.

The only thing that got more applause than his appearance was the raising of the flag over South Sudan for the first time. The ceremony continued with both Christian and Muslim blessings, and when the declaration of Independence was read, the crowd erupted once again and people rejoiced at the birth of their new nation.

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.

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Day of prayer and cleaning as independence awaits South Sudan

Sr. Kathy Arata of Solidarity with Southern Sudan came up with the idea for the 101 Days of Prayer campaign that so many Catholics throughout the world participated in. Photo by Kim Pozniak/Catholic Relief Services

By Sara Fajardo

Women bent over handmade brooms sweep the streets of southern Sudan’s capital of Juba free of dust each morning. On the few miles of paved city roads, concrete road dividers are brightened with freshly planted flowers and saplings. The entry gates of buildings and homes boast fresh green paint. The rows of robust trees along the road that houses the majority of southern Sudan’s Ministry offices are adorned with bright white banners that read “Happy Independent Day.”

Everywhere there are signs of Juba preparing to be ushered in as the world’s newest nation. Even the electoral countdown clock that once ticked away the hours left for southern Sudanese to cast their ballot for self-determination has been reconfigured to flash stats of the Republic of South Sudan’s pending nationhood: “East Africa’s newest nation #6, the United Nation’s Country #193 , Africa’s Youngest Nation.”

Recycling bins and newly minted trash cans are now found on main curb sides under signs that read: Keep Juba Clean and Green.

Even the Church is getting in on the act and has declared Friday, July 8th a day for “Prayer and Cleaning,” and has called on all southern Sudanese to: “clean your heart, clean your mind, clean your house, clean the streets,” in a symbolic act of purification, prayer and reconciliation.

On all fronts southern Sudan is putting its best forward to show the world the promise it holds.

Sara Fajardo is CRS’ regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa. She is reporting from Juba. CRS is a Caritas member.

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