Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In the main towns of S.Sudan (which are few and far between) it is possible to purchase fruit and vegetables and basic supplies—soap and salt, batteries and brooms, cooking oil and toilet paper, and the ever present Coca Cola.  But once you travel out into the rural areas, one’s choices become much more limited. For the most part, people eat ugali (maize which has been ground to a polenta-like substance akin to mashed potatoes), augmented at times by beans and okra and milk from goats or cattle.  No See’s candy, that’s for sure!  The food is, however, satisfying and healthy except when the rains fail and the cattle die and the crops do not grow.  Shown here is the market in S. Sudan's 2nd largest city, Rumbek, where Mercy Beyond Borders supports women's literacy classes.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Chickens?

The 30 chickens at the medical clinic compound in the remote Kuron Peace Village in Southern Sudan had grown fat and healthy.  One night all 30 mysteriously disappeared. The Sisters presumed, rightly so, that they had been “lifted” by someone from the local Toposa people.  

The next morning they visited the chief. Sure enough: 30 plump chickens were strutting around his hut. 

“Ah,” said Sr Angela, after greeting the chief politely and inquiring after his health and his several wives. “It seems that you have our chickens.”  

The chief feigned surprise and countered with the argument that these were undeniably HIS chickens: “Look, these are Toposa chickens! See for yourself!”  

And as Angela looked more closely, she noticed that each chicken now sported a tiny and quite colorful beaded anklet, Toposa-style, above its right foot!  She had a good laugh about that, and then convinced the chief to return all 30, complete with decorative anklets.  They are now the best-dressed chickens in Kuron!

Transporting the sick

It would be hard to find a place more remote than Kuron.  (It isn’t even on any Google maps!) But there is a Peace Village there, founded in the hope that someday all tribes and ethnic groups may learn to live cooperatively.  That day has not yet come.  Cattle-raiding remains a time-honored tradition whereby the men prove their worth as warriors.  Now that AK-47s have replaced spears these skirmishes are often deadly.  While in Kuron in mid-November, we saw this man whose pelvis was shattered by a bullet.  Since the medical clinic has no surgery, he was stabilized and then carried on a makeshift stretcher (poles and a blanket) to the back of a pickup truck for a 5-hour grueling ride on a rough dirt track to Boma, the nearest hospital.  Along with him went 3 other patients, including an infant with a huge abdominal tumor. 2 days later, we learned that the truck never made it to Boma; it was stuck on the road.  The rains that had cooled our evening in Kuron had made the road impassable to the east.  So on the 3rd day the clinic at Kuron sent another vehicle off to rescue the stranded patients, who had been without food or shelter all that while.  Nothing is easy in Sudan.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Everyone Lost Something

While meeting with the women in the village of Nacipo, I noticed one person who had only one arm. She was painstakingly sewing beads onto a goatskin skirt, using her one arm and her teeth to thread the needle and pull it through the tough skin.  I asked the project leader, Anna Mijji, about this woman's story and was told that during the civil war, soldiers had come and shot her husband dead. She grabbed the gun and killed six of the men before being shot herself. That is how she lost her arm.  “War,” she shrugged.  “Everyone lost something.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Visiting Nacipo Village in S. Sudan

On Monday morning we clambored into the back of a pickup truck with Anna Mijji, the Sudanese woman trained by Sr Kathleen Connolly earlier this year to carry on the Womens’ Health Promotion Workshops in the villages surrounding Narus. After a bouncy 15 minute drive that produced billows of red dust behind us, we pulled up to the first cluster of thatched huts. 
As we arrived, so did a group of young women walking on foot. Some were carrying jerry cans of water, and two had metal pans on their heads.  Sticking up garishly from both pans were half a dozen legs of goats—no doubt destined for sale at the local market.  Anna showed the women a photo sent by Sr Kathleen that had been taken at one of the earlier workshops. They passed the photo from one to another, examining it with great seriousness, fascinated at seeing themselves in the picture.  Then the women resumed their long walk to register for the upcoming Referendum in January that will determine the fate of S.Sudan.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Headed to S. Sudan

In just 10 days I will be boarding a KLM flight from San Francisco with two colleagues, en rte 26 hrs by air to Nairobi where we will catch an East Africa flight up to Lokichokkio in northernmost Kenya near the border with S. Sudan. From there we proceed in a Land Rover, escorted by military vehicles for several hours through a stretch of road prone to bandit attacks. Once we pass immigration at Nadapal, we shall be inside Southern Sudan. Then for a few weeks we will travel to Narus, Kuron, Rumbek, and Mapuordit to visit our Mercy Beyond Borders projects with displaced women and girls. 

By decree of the government, all schools in S. Sudan will shut down in mid-Nov for 2 months so that the teachers and students can return to their home villages to assist with registration and voter education for the referendum slated for January 9th, 2011.  The outcome will determine whether S. Sudan secedes to become its own country. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Juba, the provisional capital of S. Sudan, is a hub of activity for the fledgling government of S. Sudan as it prepares for the Jan 9th referendum that may lead to independence as a new state.  The city itself, situated on the Nile, is now home to a veritable beehive of nonprofits, UN offices, and government functionaries.  It's probably similar to the way San Francisco looked in the Gold Rush days of 1849--more bars than houses; squatter camps burgeoning everywhere; only 1 paved street; no sanitation facilities.  But the dream of "making it big" and getting in on the ground floor as the area develops attracts people from throughout the world. This photo, taken by me in April 2010, shows the city-center market with a large kite (bird) overhead. 

Juba is the first part of S. Sudan to have mobile phones and banking.  Many nonprofits operate there, but few of them venture out into the vast rural areas, where Mercy Beyond Borders has its projects with women and girls.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Living--really living--with HIV/AIDS

One of the occupational hazards of being a female refugee is that you have little or no protection from sexually-transmitted diseases. Vulnerable to rape,  infected by a spouse, or drawn into prostitution as the only way to feed their children, many displaced women suffer from HIV/AIDS.  In recent years, western countries (led by the US) have stepped up to provide anti-retroviral medicines to infected individuals in post-conflict zones. These meds, however, are effective only when taken with sufficient nutrition.  Without adequate food, the meds actually cause the women to become sicker. Women in Sudan who are displaced by war and afflicted with AIDS rarely have sufficient food.

MBB’s very first micro-enterprise project benefited 14 such women living in the town of Nimule, S. Sudan.  Besides creating income that transformed their economic situation, the project had a noticeable (and sometimes dramatic) impact on the physical health of the women.  A successful micro-enterprise effort = more monthly income = more ability to purchase food = greater effectiveness of the anti-retroviral drugs = improved personal health.  And when the women are feeling better, they can work harder, and earn even more income the following month. Micro-enterprise loans (ranging from $74 - $300, based on the women’s business plans) from Mercy Beyond Borders are quite literally giving new life to these women and their children.

 Pictured here is Aryemu with the charcoal-making business she started in Nimule, Sudan, with funding from your donations to Mercy Beyond Borders..

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On the Road Again

For the past 2 months I have been on the road almost constantly, traipsing around the US, giving presentations to various schools, book clubs, parishes, and civic groups about the mission and work of Mercy Beyond Borders.  You might have spotted me in Kansas City, Red Bluff, Sacramento, Sunnyvale, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Francisco, Joplin, San Jose or Baltimore.  Much as we all like to grouch about airport security lines, cramped airplane seating and those pitiful bags of peanuts, I actually have no complaints!  Here are 3 reasons why:

1.  I am meeting wonderful people and making new friends for MBB.

2.  I am upping my chances of actually bumping into someone who knows Oprah and can get me onto her show (imagine the visibility that would give to MBB!).

3.  Finally, I am very aware that traveling in the US—no matter how congested or hassled—cannot begin to compare with the difficulties, dangers, and inevitable delays that come with traveling anywhere inside Southern Sudan!  As the photo here (taken on the road from Rumbek to Yirol on September 1) shows, Sudanese weather and geography usually trump the travel plans of mere mortals. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

From Sesame Seeds to Charcoal

Virginia Kide selling charcoal
The first Micro-Enterprise loans made by Mercy Beyond Borders-- to 14 women of the HIV/AIDS support group in Nimule, South Sudan--have begun to improve the lives of the women, though not without struggles.  Here is Virginia's story:

"When I received the loan I invested in raw cassava to be taken to Juba; unfortunately, on my way to market the truck broke down and all was ruined. But being in a group is so important: the other members raised for me an internal loan that enabled me to go back into business. I bought a sack of simsim (sesame) and sorghum which added to my capital. In a short time, however, I fell sick and the doctor warned me not to work so hard, so I resolved to buy charcoal from the people who burn it and then sell it retail. I am a widow with 5 sons; two are now high school age. The loan I got was $250 and so far I have repaid $167. In the beginning, I had only $30 savings; now I have $50!  Thank you, Mercy Beyond Borders!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vacationing in Wilderness

No, this isn't Southern Sudan--it's beautiful Cody Lake in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe, where I spent a restful 4-day vacation last week.  Hiking into canyons, along trails and waterfalls, enjoying breathtaking views... I wondered how long it will be before Sudan reaches a place of sustained peace, so that development there can  occur without fear of violence.

Along the eastern areas of S. Sudan there are vast herds of elephants, wildebeest, giraffes, etc., rivaling the immense herds that range through Kenya and Tanzania. This was recently documented by National Geographic aerial photos.  If the region can be protected as a wildlife preserve, Southern Sudan will some day become a magnificent tourist destination rather than a conflict zone.  I look forward to that day in the future when visitors will choose to vacation in Sudan!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Micro-Enterprise Marvels

My name is Margaret Daru. I live in Nimule, S.Sudan, and this is my story:

Since I got a Mercy Beyond Borders micro-loan my business is shooting very rapidly upward!  Already I have repaid my first installment on time. I received $125 dollars and have so far paid $82.20 and I hope to clear the remaining amount before the time elapses.  My setback was due to an accident which happened to my husband: he was knocked down by a motorcycle when crossing the road, so for the past two month I'm not constant in my stall. Even at the time of this photo I'm on and off because his condition is not good and there is nobody to care for him in the hospital, so I must be with him every day. But I have enough stock in my kiosk to repay my loan and I am also very happy to tell you that we appreciate all the support MBB has given us.  Even if this amount of money is small, still it was a great blessing. Now my business has increased and what I have realized is the spirit of group and working together is very important for us as sick people it’s an achievement [editor's note: Margaret has HIV/AIDS, and the anti-retroviral medications she is on are not effective unless taken with proper nutrition].  I was weighing 50 Kg but now I have increased to 64kg body weight so feeding is no longer a problem even I have not fallen sick during this course. I thank the Lord for that. My beginning saving was 119 Sudanese pounds (about $44) and now I have topped to 305 Sudanese pounds ($113) in the saving box. This is good for my life!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kokopelli in Sudan

Last week I spent several days in the American Southwest, visiting the pueblos of the Navajo and Anasazi peoples who first lived here 700 years ago, long before the United States existed.  Though their adobe houses and traditions were unique to them, there was much about the place that reminded me of Southern Sudan today.  One of the oft-pictured pueblo symbols is Kokopelli, the flute-player. His playful form survives in stories and on ancient petroglyphs near Albuquerque. 

After hiking in the Petroglyph National Park in the blazing 100 degree sunshine to snap photos of Kokopelli drawings on the volcanic rocks, I recalled this photo of a boy making music from a flute fashioned from an old pipe. I took the picture in Kuron, Sudan, two years ago.  Though 10,000 miles separate Albuquerque from Kuron, this young boy's name could be Kokopelli.  The spirit is the same.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ground Travel in S. Sudan

The semi-dry riverbed shown in this snapshot gives a feel for the rigors of ground travel in Sudan, which is at its best challenging and at its worst downright life-threatening.  Yes, we crossed this riverbed in a Land Rover while on our way from Narus to Kuron, easing down the mucky bank on the right, splashing through the water, and then hanging on for the near-vertical climb up the left bank. For a moment I worried that our vehicle was literally going to topple over backwards in an Olympic-style backflip!  Our intrepid Sudanese driver, however, didn't even blink; I couldn't tell whether his furrowed brow and maniacal grin signaled intense concentration or a sudden death wish.

Most of Southern Sudan lacks roads of any kind. Paved roads remain only a distant future dream (except in Juba, the provisional capital, which now has exactly 2 paved streets). Most rivers have no bridges.  Travelers are often stranded for hours (or days) on one bank of a river, waiting for the water level to drop so that they can slog across to the other bank.  Even bone-dry riverbeds are deceptively dangerous: Bishop Paride Taban nearly drowned once while crossing a dry wadi when a flash flood suddenly engulfed his vehicle.  He escaped only because he was able to squeeze out through an open window and somehow swim to safety amid the muddied water and uprooted trees. The vehicle was never found. 

Bush planes are actually the safest form of travel in S. Sudan, but chartering them is prohibitively expensive.  For now, Mercy Beyond Borders travels by vehicle.  The lack of rest stops or roadside eateries (hard to have a roadside restaurant when there are no roads!) doesn't worry me, but the likelihood of mechanical breakdown, armed ambush, or flash floods is enough to keep anyone awake.  I'm always a bit surprised--and more than a bit grateful-- to arrive safely at any Sudanese destination.  And I have tremendous respect for all who live and work there, day in and day out.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Taking Away the Kalashnikovs

Disarmament is a good thing, right?  Yes, but in Sudan, where nearly every male has a gun, it can actually escalate violence.

Prior to the April elections, the military in Southern Sudan began entering villages to force the people to turn in their AK-47s.  Surely this is a good thing.  However, some people feared being defenseless: "If I give up my rifle, but the men in the neighboring village do not, I will not be able to protect myself or my family..."

When any family failed to surrender their weapons, the soldiers summarily grabbed the family's young children and beat them severely until the parents complied.  Some fathers instead attacked the soldiers. People were killed.  All of this added to the general unrest that pervaded Sudan at election time.  Thankfully, the violence did not spread and the elections were completed without major disruption.  But the people remain distrustful that peace can endure. They cling to their weapons for safety.  It is the terrible legacy of four decades of civil war. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Anna Mijji, Sudanese Workshop Leader

This photo shows Anna Mijji and two friends heading to "the mall" in Narus, on their way to purchase food supplies for the weekend health promotion workshops which they conduct in the rural villages.  They are crossing the wadi (dry riverbed) to get to the Dinka Market stalls on the far side of Narus town.  In the market they may find butchered goat shanks hanging from a large hook, fresh onions, pounded maize, not-so-fresh tomatoes or cabbage trucked in from Kenya, as well as staples such as soap, salt, and cooking oil imported from neighboring countries. Sr. Kathleen Connolly, the California Mercy Sister who started the health promotion project and trained Anna, will return to S. Sudan in July to formally transition the project to the Sudanese women to continue through 2011.  CONGRATS to Anna for her local leadership of this effort to improve maternal/child health among the Toposa women.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When is a speaker not a speaker?

Q.  When is a speaker not a speaker?
A.  When she fails to show up for the event!

Such was my situation on Friday, May 14th, when I was trying to fly to Omaha for a Mercy Beyond Borders fundraiser.  Bad weather shut down the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport for 4 hours, stranding 50,000 travelers, myself included.  By the time I reached Omaha in the wee hours of Saturday morning, the event was long over.  Its organizers, Mercy Sisters Johanna Burnell and Jeanne O'Rourke and Mercy Associate JoMarie Guastello, had nonetheless graciously hosted 35 people in my absence, showed the guests the 5-minute MBB video, told them about our work in S. Sudan, and elicited over $3,500 in donations for our projects.  So, who needs me as a speaker????  Thank you, Johanna, Jeanne and JoMarie!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New Friends

While in Africa during April, I had the good fortune to meet Ingrid Reneau, who works with the nonprofit, ACROSS. We are pictured here enjoying lunch in Nairobi and sharing ideas for promoting the education of women in Sudan.  Ingrid is originally from Belize, has a doctorate in women's studies, and was seconded by the Presbyterians' national office (PC-USA) to work with ACROSS in Sudan. She loves it!

Mercy Beyond Borders hopes to work with ACROSS in the future to support its women's adult education project in the remote Southern Sudanese town of Boma, near the Ethiopian border.  The peoples in that area are primarily nomadic, and they have been hit hard by the lack of rain, the subsequent famine, and the inter-tribal conflicts that flare up when differing groups compete for scarce grazing land for their cattle.  ACROSS is working to attract more teens and young women into their accelerated primary school equivalency program (which condenses the 8 yrs of primary instruction into 4 years).  It's very important to open up such possibilities for females. As 15-yr old Sira, one of the students, said, "My mother promised that she will not allow anyone to book me for marriage until I finish my studies...I would like to become a doctor."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hope Snatched Away by Forty Cows

Two weeks ago Theresa (not her real name) counted herself among the luckiest of girls in Sudan. A bright, energetic and inquisitive 10th grader, she loved school and had her heart set on becoming a doctor.  At the end of March she went home to her village for the Easter holiday.  Several days later she reappeared at the school's front gate, utterly distraught.  "I've been married off to an old man for 40 cows," she wailed. "My life is finished."  She could not be comforted.

Early marriages. Dowries of cattle.  Wedding promises sealed when girls are still infants. Complex arrangements involving parents and uncles and the needs of extended family to gain cows or pay off debts. All of this leaves young Sudanese girls extremely vulnerable.  The dominant "cattle culture" that deems females to be worth less than livestock will change only when more and more girls become educated, recognize their human dignity, claim their voice, and assume their rightful place in civil society.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

eReaders for Sudanese Girls

Sister Edvine, Principal of St Bakhita Primary School in Narus, Sudan, holds in her lap one of the 6 Kindle eReaders delivered to her in Nairobi by Sister Marilyn in April 2010.  These electronic marvels were purchased with donations to Mercy Beyond Borders from the Junior Class at Mercy High School in Burlingame, CA.  Each Kindle is stocked with over 280 books, effectively creating an instant library for the 800 girls at St Bakhita, where paper books are scarce--and in any event, do not last long under the ravages of the extreme heat and humidity, not to mention the insatiable appetites of termites! 

Sr Edvine sends a huge THANK YOU to the students at Mercy for their wonderful gifts!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Election Excitement in Sudan

Hanging on fences and store fronts, nailed to tree trunks and plastered on walls, the signs are everywhere: Come and Vote!  For the first time in a quarter century, after 21 years of civil war, the peoples of Southern Sudan are able to vote.  Over a span of 4 days in mid-April they cast their votes.

Whereas foreigners living in S. Sudan were uneasy about the potential for violence erupting, the resident Sudanese showed nothing but enthusiasm for the election.  They view it as a significant prelude to the 2011 vote for secession to become their own country.  They are ready!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Involving Nursing Students at USF

Shirley Tamoria, a medical doctor in San Francisco and a member of the Mercy Beyond Borders board of directors, cares passionately about improving primary health care in Sudan. She is pictured here at a rural clinic near the town of Rumbek in S. Sudan.  Recently Shirley spoke to several classes of nursing students at the University of San Francisco. Many of the students subsequently expressed their desire to volunteer locally in ways that would support Mercy Beyond Borders' work.  Shirley plans to meet regularly with them after her April trip to Sudan, to share ideas with them and encourage their efforts.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Rare Chance

The girls and women of Sudan cherish the rare chance to go to school.  Fewer than 1 in 7 girls in S. Sudan get more than 5 yrs of schooling, but all approach their studies with serious determination.  Their opportunity for ongoing education recently got a bit brighter: Mercy Beyond Borders has launched a scholarship program for 8th graders who qualify for high school, and for 12th graders who qualify for nurses' training or teacher colleges. 

MBB now has 29 Sudanese girls and young women on full scholarships at schools in Sudan and Kenya.  These scholarships will continue annually through the girls' matriculation, so long as their academic marks remain high.

If you are able to contribute to the MBB scholarship fund, please donate to Mercy Beyond Borders, 1885 De La Cruz Blvd #101, Santa Clara, CA 95050.  Or, go to the DONATE button on our website: