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.