Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Natural Wonders

Sometimes it seems to me that everything in Africa is a bit larger than life. The skies are more expansive; the sunsets more spectacular; the colors more vivid; the wildlife more, well, wild.  A recent National Geographic flyover of eastern Sudan revealed huge herds of wildebeest, elephants, giraffes, and antelope that survived the long civil war.  Sudan also hosts a tremendous variety of birds.  This large bird lives in the tree behind the outhouses of the compound where I stay in Narus when I visit St Bakhita School.  Not being a “birder,” I am ignorant about its species—maybe a toucan? or a spoonbill? – but it is beautiful to behold and captivating to listen to.  May it always soar free.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Street ART in HAITI

Though Port-au-Prince was leveled by the massive quake of 2010, the resilience of the human spirit is evident even amid the rubble that remains.  This outdoor wall of original Haitian art practically shimmers with colors that jump and dazzle.  Tourists to buy these paintings, however, have long disappeared—replaced by the UN and other nonprofit organizations working to repair the capital.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"What Lies Beneath"

A few years ago Hollywood released a scary movie entitled “What Lies Beneath.”  Though I didn’t see the film (ever since being traumatized by “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as a youngster, I don’t do scary), the reality of “what lies beneath” is never far from my awareness in South Sudan.  What do I mean?  Take a look at this termite mound outside St Bakhita School.  These tall pillars rise everywhere in South Sudan…. Built up over the years by layer upon layer of poop deposited by termite swarms [what should one call a termite population: a swarm? a pod? a herd? a tribe?], they give ominous testimony to the nonstop activity going on constantly and invisibly beneath our feet.  But not only below the ground! Termites also eat the thick wooden branches that shore up mud huts. They gnaw through the precious books in schools. They munch. They poop. They build their skyscrapers. What a life!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From Ammunition to Art

If there's one thing that South Sudan has toooo much of, it's bullets.  In remote areas where money is not yet common, people use bullets as a form of payment.
At the medical clinic in Kuron, for example, patients will pay for services by handing over a handful of bullets. The clinic director, Sr Angela, is quite happy to accept them and lock them into a cabinet, taking them out of circulation.
Women have now begun to melt down bullet casings to make jewelry such as the anklets shown in this picture.  In a small but significant way, it's a swords-into-plowshares moment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Standing Up for Peace

One of the heroes of South Sudan is a quiet man named Paride Taban. He happens to be the Catholic Bishop through whose diocese trekked hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and refugees during the long civil war.  After being on BBC speaking out for reconciliation and peace, his home was bombed by Khartoum.  He was imprisoned underground for 100 days by the rebels. He stayed with the people throughout the conflict.  When the war finally ended, he "retired" in order to found a Peace Village in the remote Kuron Valley, not far from the Sudan-Ethiopia border.
Bishop Taban is the person who first invited me to Sudan in 1992, during the war. "Come and see," he said.  I did, and it changed my life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gone with the Wind

Aid workers in South Sudan wryly admit that "whatever can go wrong usually will go wrong." To wit, look at this photo: fierce winds ripped the roof from a newly built primary school in Yirol--crumpling the corrugated iron as if it were paper--even before the school had officially opened.   The accompanying rains flooded the storage room, ruining the books and the food supplies.

Educators in Sudanese must cope with more than their share of challenges: roads that are impassable much of the year, fellow teachers who are not yet trained, termites that eat the books, bandits who steal the stores, mosquitoes that bring malaria, scorpions that sting the unwary, weather that is either too hot or too wet (or both).... And yet the thirst for learning remains incredibly strong among girls and women in South Sudan, and Mercy Beyond Borders considers it a privilege to support efforts that provide for their formal education.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lining up for Education in Haiti

Scholarship winners in Haiti--each of them the top academic girl in her respective school on the 6th grade national exams-- line up in crisp new uniforms for their first day of class at their new junior-high in the town of Gros Morne.  The anxiety and importance of moving up to this next level of education shows on the solemn expressions on their young faces.  Mercy Beyond Borders intends to support this cohort of girls through secondary school, and to add a new cohort of graduating 6th graders each year as well.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Telling My Story

Radio Reporter interviews Susan Nunu at her home in South Sudan

What's it like to be 27 yrs old, the over-worked mother of 3 young children and not yet a school graduate?  Just ask Susan Nunu.  She juggles the never-ending chores of a busy household (without, of course, any running water or electric appliances or local grocery store or place to study or light to study by).  Family obligations sometimes keep her away from class for days at a time, but she always returns. She has told her story on Good News Radio in Rumbek, South Sudan, urging other families to permit their daughters to go to school and encouraging all young women who have the chance for formal education to persevere no matter what the obstacles.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

For All the Saints

Throughout the world, Christian denominations celebrate November 1st as the Feast of All Saints.  [In fact, this was the origin of Halloween, literally the "eve of the hallowed," when children dressed as various holy men and women.] Today I salute all the holy and hardworking women and girls of Haiti and South Sudan who, despite great burdens of poverty and oppression, press ahead with their lives and dream of better futures for their own children.

Most will never see this blog, for they cannot read--or, if they can read, lack access to the internet--but they should know that their lives, like the saints of old, inspire us to live in the present moment, to share generously whatever little we have, and to be grateful for all of life's blessings, from the greatest to the smallest.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not a toy

Land Mines are one of the more insidious and long-lasting legacies of war.  Ridiculously cheap to purchase and plant; horrifically expensive and dangerous to remove, they render many parts of South Sudan uninhabitable because of their lingering presence.  Children are often the victims because the mines are small, plastic, and look very much like toys. The UN brings highly-specialized landmine removal teams from places like South Africa, using trained dogs to sniff them out, but their work is painstakingly slow.  It could literally take hundreds of years to clear the fertile farmlands of South Sudan.

Here a warning, looking a bit like a pirate flag, is affixed above the license plate of a UN vehicle in Rumbek, South Sudan.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Braided Fish, anyone?

Though I have been in and out of South Sudan many times over the past decade, I've learned to expect something new and different every time.  On a recent trip to Rumbek in Lakes State, for example, I spied something in the central outdoor market that made me stop and stare:  long, elegant BRAIDS of FISH.  Why use a plastic carry bag when you can weave them into long strands?  Simple, ingenious, and quite practical!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wearable Art

Continuing our blog posts highlighting beauty in South Sudan:

Just look at the bright patterns in the beaded goatskin skirt worn by this mom, her colorful vest and bracelets, and the necklaces and earrings on her young daughter.  The jewelry is painstakingly hand-made, of course, by women sitting on the ground next to their thatched huts, taking respite in the heat of the day from the harder daily tasks of cooking and washing and hauling firewood or farming.... All the while the women are telling stories and laughing and teaching their daughters, too, how to create beauty from almost nothing--wherever they are, from whatever is at hand.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Simple Beauty in Sudan's Villages

As every architect knows, simplicity is fundamental to elegant design. Though I  am willing to bet there are no trained architects among the Toposa tribe in South Sudan, just look at the inherent beauty in their simple, beehive-shaped dwellings and storage huts.

Building these huts from thatch and tree branch is hard work and it is always done by the women. Truly, the women of Sudan are artists--and perhaps would become fine architects if they ever had the chance to go to school!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Natural wonders

When Sudan makes the news, it is usually because of some conflict or famine or other disaster. While it's true that this part of the planet endures more than its share of sorrows, year after year, I can assure you that Sudan is also a place of breathtaking beauty: in nature and in its people. In the next few posts, I will highlight a few of its many natural wonders.

Here we see a banyan tree (well, not being a botanist, I am guessing it is a banyan tree--you readers can set me straight!). It's growing in a semi-arid part of South Sudan, in the town of Nimule, within the compound where I lodge when visiting. As you can see, it's a magnificent,  towering tangle of roots and trunk and branches and foliage. Almost a whole community of trees wrapped into one vital pillar of strength and provider of shade and shelter!   Doesn't it help you understand why people become huggers of trees?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rubble in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

As of this month, Mercy Beyond Borders is now active in 2 countries where women and girls remain mired in extreme poverty: Haiti and S.Sudan.

This photo was taken in Port-au-Prince 18 months after the catastrophic January 2010 earthquake that leveled the capital city and sent thousands of families to the more rural regions of Haiti to seek shelter with distant relatives.  The city is still full of rubble from collapsed buildings. Here a furniture maker has set up shop literally in the "cave" formed by the concrete slabs of what was once a 3-story apartment.  The carpenter enjoys respite from the heat--but risks death daily if the concrete should shift or settle further.

Mercy Beyond Borders works in a mountainous region about 4 hours north of Port-au-Prince.  Though the quake did not destroy too much there, the area has been heavily impacted by tens of thousands of families fleeing from the capital.  We provide hope to the displaced families by awarding high school scholarships to the top academic female achiever in each of 16 primary schools there.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Precious Oil. Dangerous Oil

The Nile River, broad and swift-moving, cuts a wide swath through South Sudan's capital city of Juba. Barges move upriver (i.e. southward) from Khartoum, bringing passengers and all manner of cargo--except oil.  The northern Sudan government in Khartoum stopped the delivery of petrol to the South in June, causing the price of petrol to skyrocket. One gallon of gas now costs the equivalent of $8 US dollars, an impossibly high price for most of the population.  It is but one sign of worsening relations between the two halves of old Sudan.  Much more worrisome: the recent bombing and military occupation by the north of South Sudan's oil regions, displacing tens of thousands of southerners.  Where will it end?  Will the international community stand by and do nothing?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Women's work never ends. In Sudan, the work can be hazardous to your health. Many women suffer from eye diseases. Watching the women cook over smoky charcoal fires several times daily, I wonder about the damage done to their eyes by the smoke.
Also, it is rare to see anyone wearing glasses in the villages. No one checks their eyesight. No one supplies corrective lenses.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mercy Beyond Borders at UN Film Festival

We are delighted to announce that a 20-minute documentary on the work of Mercy Beyond Borders in South Sudan will be featured at the 14th annual United Nations Film Festival, Oct 21-30, 2011 at Stanford University and other venues in Palo Alto, E. Palo Alto and San Francisco. The theme for this year's festival, "Education is a human right," fits well with Mercy Beyond Borders' conviction that "where women learn, women matter."  The film was filmed and produced by Christopher Jenkins, who teaches documentary film-making at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The public is welcome at the festival! When the date gets closer, check for details at

Chris Jenkins and friend on location in Kuron, S.Sudan

Monday, August 22, 2011

Troubling inflation hits S.Sudan

The people of S. Sudan do not lack for enthusiasm at becoming an independent nation. However, serious problems grip the young country. Since July 9th, when South Sudan split from the North, the Khartoum government has actively worked to de-stabilize the region.  There is evidence that Khartoum is supplying dissident groups in the South with weapons, ammunition, and other goods (or should we say "bads").

Khartoum has also stripped all Southerners residing in the north of their Sudanese citizenship and rights, causing massive movements of internally displaced to the South.  To make matters worse, the North has blocked the transport of needed food, fuel and other materials to the South, sparking huge jumps in prices for everyday commodities.  In the town of Narus, where Mercy Beyond Borders supports a girls' boarding school, a bag of maize is up 300% in 2 months; a drum of petrol has risen 62%,  a bag of sugar now costs 6,000 Kenyan shillings--about $75 USD, an impossible sum where the average person's income is less than $1/day.

As challenges mount, so does the determination of the people to make their newfound freedom work. Mercy Beyond Borders stands with them.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What is she thinking?

What is she thinking, this lone Sudanese woman sitting in the dust in front of her mud-and-stick home in the outskirts of Mapuordit?  Is she content with her gray striped blanket and blue plastic bucket and the fly whisk in her hand?  Is she having health problems? Is she worrying how she will find food for her children?  Does she wish she had had the chance to go to school? Does she ever wonder about the world beyond her village?

I do not know what this woman is thinking, but I know what I am thinking: my life is tied to hers. We are kin. Now that we are connected I can make a difference in her life, as she is making a difference in mine.  She is helping me to think globally.  She is helping me to stretch my own heart to broader horizons.  She is helping me to extend mercy beyond borders.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mercy Beyond Borders goes to Haiti

As you know, Mercy Beyond Borders partners with displaced women and girls in ways that alleviate their extreme poverty.  To date, all of our projects have been in South Sudan, home to 1/4 of the world's displaced people.  Now we are expanding to Haiti, where the 2010 earthquake displaced tens of thousands.  Even now, 18 months later, many people still live in flimsy tent encampments in Port-au-Prince; thousands more fled to the rural areas to stay with relatives (who themselves cannot afford to host the influx).

One week in Haiti was more than enough to convince me that Haitian women are resilient and resourceful (as you can see in this photo), and that scholarships for Haitian girls will provide hope as well as education to the many who would otherwise drop out for lack of school fees.  Mercy Beyond Borders will focus its efforts in the Gros Morne (i.e., "big mountain") area, about 4 hours by car north of Port-au-Prince.  We begin this summer by offering high school scholarships to the top academic achiever in each of 16 primary schools in the region. Stay tuned on our website for details and photos in coming months:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Online Partnering for Sudan

Two nonprofits -- Dining for Women, and Global Giving -- are highlighting Mercy Beyond Borders this month.   If MBB can raise $4,000 from at least 50 different donors during the month of August, Dining for Women will earn a permanent spot on the Global Giving website, giving Mercy Beyond Borders’ Micro-Enterprise Project more online visibility with new audiences - and that will be great for the women and girls of South Sudan! If you feel inspired to help, here's how: 

1) During August, go to
2) Search for Dining for Women and select the project “Micro-Enterprise Loans Improve Life for 45 Women in South Sudan.”  
3) Click the "Give Now" button.  Please consider a $40 gift, or whatever you can afford.  And ask a friend to do the same! 

Thank You for participating!  Deadline for reaching our goal is August 31. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weary for a Reason

When I am in Sudan there are some days when I honestly wonder, “Why am I doing this? Why am I traipsing along these dusty paths, squinting into the equatorial sun, swatting mosquitoes and dodging scorpions?  Why am I eating ugali (gruel made from ground maize) at every meal? Dousing myself in cold bucket showers? Traveling in dilapidated public buses and on the backs of motorcycles over miserable roads?  Why?”  

And then I visit the modest mud huts of the women with whom Mercy Beyond Borders partners. I see the incredible resilience of the women, their determination to rebuild after years of loss and war.  I see the small businesses they have launched with MBB micro-loans.  I listen to their stories. I hear the pride in their voices as they say, “Imagine! I am now a successful business woman netting $3 profit every day!” 

So I have my answer: this is why I go to Sudan. This is why Mercy Beyond Borders links with displaced women and girls.  We see their lives improve. We share their joy.  It is more than enough.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Almost Urban

Juba, capital of the now-independent Republic of South Sudan, squats on the banks of the Nile River. For the moment, it is a blend of hectic urban activity--nonstop construction, busy government offices, street vendors hawking their wares--and deep-seated, slow-moving rural roots.  Here we see cattle plodding down one of Juba's main streets. Soon such scenes will give way to traffic jams and neon signs, but for now one has the impression that Juba is much more country than city. Most roads remain unpaved; most streets have no signs. Public transport is via motorcycle only. There are no public libraries or parks, no museums or "destinations."  All of that will change, of course, in the coming years.  For now, it's a snapshot of Sudan's uncertain emergence into the world after so many years of isolation due to war.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eyewitness Account of South Sudan's Independence Day

This email from Sr Maureen Limer, describes the excitement in Rumbek, S. Sudan, on July 9th.  The photo was taken of celebrations in Narus, S.Sudan, by Bro Mike Foley:

Sudanese Youth Jump for Joy on Independence Day
A dramatic birth! On the stroke of midnight, some of us on our beds beginning to sleep, Independence ERUPTED!

Drums and whistles, trumpets (buvuzelas), any available noisemakers but, above all, GUNS: AK 47s, rifles, revolvers, I'm no expert but they were ALL there adding to the cacophony and quite impressive after a two year disarmament campaign! Women shrieked with joy, their traditional ululating, children cried and EVERYONE knew the moment had come and the noise did not subside for hours and hours. It was frightening and exciting and REAL.

Just a few hours later, on the way to Mass, you could read it in the eyes of the mamas and children, their fathers, sons and brothers. The liturgical 'Sign of Peace' was so special this morning. I appreciated a special hug from a mama who shared a hollow in the Rumbek ground with me in 2003 during Bashir's last bombing raid on the town.

We spare a thought for Abyei, South Kordofan and Darfur where the attacks continue as we celebrate. It is understandable that Bashir has excused himself from the Juba eremonies today. Last night, concluding the nine days of prayer for the new nation, we gathered with the Bishop and parishioners for a candlelight vigil at the scene of the killing forty six years ago  of Rumbek priest, Fr. Archangelo Ali. We concluded with the first public singing of  the new anthem, "O God, we praise and glorify you for your grace on South Sudan, land of great abundance; uphold us united in peace and harmony." 

It is only 9.15 a.m. as I write but the marching and processions have been in full swing since daybreak and look set for the day. In fact, judging by the numbers, people have walked from far and wide through the night to take part. It is very evident that the teachers marshalling the thousands of schoolchildren are well-practiced in the art… I am typing to the rhythm of "Left, left, left....."  And in Freedom Square, scene of 1997 successful rout of the northern soldiers by the SPLA, everyone will want their turn on the podium; a day for remembering and savoring and full of expectation. There'll be some sore heads and
feet tomorrow but I'm sure there won't be many complaints.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Anticipating PEACE, girding for WAR

July 9th is INDEPENDENCE DAY for the new Republic of South Sudan!  Across the land, there will be drums accompanying the singing of their new national anthem, many long speeches, days of dancing and festive meals.  The people of S. Sudan are surely ready for REJOICING!

Behind the celebrations, however, lurks the awful threat of a return to war.  Omar al-Bashir (President of the North, who is under international indictment for war crimes in Darfur), last week reversed his June agreement to a cessation of hostilities. His army has already invaded the internal border regions, allegedly bombing villages, executing civilians, and claiming the land. This Northern aggression has caused over 160,000 Southerners to flee from their villages since mid-May.

Why not hold a birthday party wherever you are today and light a candle for PEACE in all of Sudan?

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Sometimes I can even afford fruit!"

While in the Sudanese town of Nimule during June, I visited and talked with the women who had received micro-loans from Mercy Beyond Borders.  Here is Vicky's story. She is living with AIDS:

I sell these tiny fish in the market stall. Before getting my loan from Mercy Beyond Borders, I sold only cooking oil. It was hard. Purchase at 65,000 Uganda Shillings (about $26) and sell, if lucky, at 90,000 Uganda Shillings (about $36). This was barely enough for normal living expenses. I never had any savings. Since the MBB loan I have been able to buy fish, groundnuts (peanuts) and beans. As you see here, these sell quickly.  My life has come up! My profit has tripled!  My day-to-day life is improving, truly. There is still more for me to do, of course, but already my diet has improved and my strength is good. Sometimes I can even afford fruit!  I have completely repaid the original loan with interest (12%).  I feel so good about that. If I had a chance for a second loan, I would build my own tukul (hut) and buy more provisions in Gulu and sell them in Juba.  As for the people in America who made the loan to me, I say to you: “I cannot express my joy. You have pulled me out of darkness. Now I live in the light.  I can never speak my thanks enough to you.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Need a Doctor?

This sign from an enterprising Tanzanian healer caught my eye as I walked along the main street in the Sudanese town of Nimule, just north of the Ugandan border.  He didn't seem to have too many customers lining up outside his door--but then, you never know when you might need a cure for bad luck or a swollen body or a court case.... I made a mental note of the location for future reference!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Feeling young again

En route to Sudan at the end of May, I flew Ethiopian Air and had a layover in Addis Ababa.  While there I learned that Ethiopia still uses the Julian calendar, which means that right now it is the year 2003.  Immediately I felt 8 yrs younger!  Not a bad way to start a trip....  I also learned that in Ethiopia, the day begins not at midnight but at dawn.  When the sun rises, it is considered to be 1:00 a.m.; high noon is 6:00 a.m.  Makes sense to me, though it could wreak havoc with airline schedules!  The flights posted in Amharic use Ethiopian time; the flights posted in English use standard Western time. Who knew?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Passport Beauty

You know the old saying, "If you look like your passport picture, you're not well enough to travel!"

That is certainly true of me.  Somehow the camera manages, long before I have boarded an airplane, to capture the dragged-through-a-knothole visage, the telltale vacant stare and stiff-necked posture that come over me after 26 or 30 hours of flight from San Francisco to either Nairobi or Kampala (and we're not even in Sudan yet--that will take many more hours on airplanes and dirt roads).  How does the camera know that this is how I am going to look when I arrive in East Africa?  In Calif, friends look at my passport and say, "Whoa, that's a horrible picture of you!"  In Africa, the immigration official looks at the same picture, glances up at me, and nods. Yup. That's her!

By the time you read this I will be in South Sudan visiting our women's Micro-Enterprise projects in Nimule and interviewing candidates in Torit for our Scholarship Coordinator role.  I'll be even more bleary-eyed by the time I get back in San Francisco in mid-June, but it's all more than worth it for the sake of the women and girls in Sudan!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The hospital built and operated by Brother Rosario, MD, in Mapuordit, South Sudan, boasts a well deserved reputation for excellent care. It is located in a rural area reachable only by rough roads.  Despite its isolation, the hospital has an operating room, a nursing school and a diverse, dedicated staff.

Shown here with Bro Rosario are Sr Marilyn Lacey and Shirley Tamoria, MD (a member of Mercy Beyond Borders' Board of Directors), during a 2010 visit.  Doctor Tamoria was thoroughly impressed by the professional medical treatments and staff training that Bro Rosario provides and oversees.  

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hand-washing, Health-raising

If you visit the village of Nacipo, in South Sudan, you will see the women with whom Mercy Beyond Borders partners in promoting basic health.  Anna Mijji, MBB's health promoter, works with families like this one.  They live in thatch huts that the women build with their own hands. They spend hours every morning securing firewood for cooking and hauling water for daily use. The women are tremendously resilient and intelligent, but most have never been schooled, so they remain unaware of the connections between hand-washing and disease, or the benefits of keeping flies off food.  MBB hosts weekly workshops to encourage simple changes that can dramatically improve health.  It's working. We are already seeing changes!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Imagining what C-O-L-D feels like

If you've grown up in rural S. Sudan, you may have no concept whatsoever of c-o-l-d, as the weather there is equatorially hot year-round (either hot and dusty dry, or hot and rainy wet).  The electricity needed to produce refrigeration would be extremely rare.  In fact, in the brief workshop that refugees from Sudan have before being resettled out of refugee camps to begin a new life in Europe or America, the teachers sometimes pass a large chunk of ice around the classroom.  "This is cold," they say. "You may live in a place that feels like this."  
Sr Edvine, Principal of St Bakhita Primary School, spent an overnight in Lake Tahoe while visiting California during March.  The area had already recorded 59 feet of winter snow (yes, feet!).  Edvine sat bundled inside the house, close to a roaring fireplace.  Now she'll be able to describe c-o-l-d to her students in South Sudan! 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Look Sharp! Feel Sharp!

Thorns!  Thorns! THORNS! Growing seemingly everywhere in the scrub brush of S. Sudan, these spikes can be 3-4 inches in length and are the bane of all unwary walkers and of children playing soccer. They easily pierce skin and are more than sharp enough to puncture tires or walking shoes (if you're lucky enough to have shoes).

Mercy Beyond Borders has sent an allegedly puncture-proof soccer ball (at least, that is the claim of the manufacturer) to St Bakhita Primary School in Narus, Sudan. If it survives the thorn bushes on their rough playing field, it will indeed be a miracle. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sr.Edvine, Principal of St Bakhita Girls' Primary School in Narus, Sudan, recently spent 3 weeks in California. Since it was her first trip outside of East Africa, all of it was new to her.  She participated in a workshop with 35,000 others at the Anaheim Convention Center, she saw the vast farms of the California's Central Valley, she enjoyed Mexican food, she visited local elementary schools, she toured a teacher resource center, she met with donors, she even saw SNOW at Lake Tahoe.  When I asked her what the most amazing part of her visit had been, however, she immediately replied, "The roads."  Never had she traveled on such smooth roads. Never had she been able to cover a distance of hundreds of miles in a few short hours.  "Oh," she said, "if only Sudan had such roads!"  

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Being Displaced

Displacement remains a sad fact for many Southern Sudanese. Though the civil war ended several years ago, internal fighting between ethnic groups is still a huge problem.  In this photo we see a young mother and her two children whose village was burned during tribal clashes in April in Mapuordit.  She fled and is now camping out with the few possessions she could carry away: a mattress, a cooking pot, a goatskin, a plastic chair.  She received mosquito netting and blankets from Sr Philippa, Principal of the Mapuordit secondary school where Mercy Beyond Borders supports the all of the female students.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Camping Out" on the School Grounds

"Camping out" connotes happy summer vacations to many American youth. It carries a very different meaning in most parts of Africa.
Several months ago, Mercy Beyond Borders displayed this photo of Sr. Philippa Murphy, Principal of the only high school in Mapuordit.  She has been working hard to increase the number of girls at her school.  What she certainly did NOT have in mind was a sudden influx of women and children last month coming as IDPs (internally displaced persons) seeking refuge on her campus from a fierce upsurge in fighting between the Jur and Dinka tribes in the area that left at least 38 dead, many villages razed, and thousands of villagers fleeing for safe haven.  Now Philippa must cope with trying to begin school in order to provide some sense of normalcy for the students while hundreds of uprooted families are camping out on her grounds, lacking proper shelter, sufficient food, and not knowing what lies ahead for them.  Local authorities have been slow to bring emergency help.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.  No, it's not a new dance craze, it's a description of the uphill struggle to make any kind of substantive progress in Sudan.  Take a look, for example, at this picture of the brand-new primary school in Yirol, where a recent wind storm ripped off the metal roof and the ensuing rains flooded the food storage and school supply rooms, ruining everything.  It's hard not to get discouraged when so much hard effort can be undone overnight by weather, by bandits, or by plans that go awry.   Those who work in Sudan have to be long on patience, sticking to their goals despite frequent setbacks.  

Since most of us live in places where water comes on at the twist of a tap, where electricity is constant, where roads washed out by bad weather get repaired in good time, and where food is merely a short hop to a nearby grocery store, it's hard to grasp the remoteness and challenges of S. Sudan.  Trucking in replacement metal roofing for this school (from Uganda or Kenya) could take another 6 months....Meanwhile, where will the children learn?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wouldn't That Be Wild?

A recent National Geographic aerial survey of the eastern regions of South Sudan discovered vast herds of wild animals.  The researchers were stunned by what they saw.  Nearly everyone had assumed that wildlife was nearly eliminated in S. Sudan during the four decades of war.  Since 1983 displaced peoples and soldiers, hungry and on the move, regularly killed and ate elephant, giraffe, buffalo and other animals simply to stay alive.  "We had thought all the large herds were gone."  To the contrary, their photos prove that the wildlife remaining in Sudan will rival the fabled herds of the Serengeti.  We can only hope that the new government of South Sudan will soon establish extensive game preserves to give sanctuary to these animals and to enable a tourism industry to develop as well.  As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness...."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

From huts to classrooms to careers

When I say that living in Sudan is "sort of like camping, only with more spiders and scorpions," I mean it.  Nearly all of South Sudan's people live in rural settings, usually with only the barest necessities for survival.  For girls, the leap from such a place to an elementary school is huge; to stay in school long enough to attend high school is rare.  And the odds against being able to enroll in a university are astronomical.  Mercy Beyond Borders is trying to change those odds through the promotion of girls' education and the provision of scholarships to the best female students.

The village shown in this photo, for example, produced a young woman who is now an MBB scholar in a Nursing College.  Three cheers for Debora!  She was pulled out of 9th grade by her family to be married to an older man; they subsequently had two children, but Debora never relinquished her dream of finishing school. Finally, at age 21 she returned to high school and later graduated (the only female in her class of 70).  MBB then provided a full scholarship so that Debora could pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.  We salute you for your courage, Debora!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Power of Radio

In South Sudan, where such a high percentage of the population is not yet literate, radio is a particularly effective means of communication.  During December 2010, Mercy Beyond Borders visited Good News Radio station in Rumbek.  With a broadcast radius of 100 miles, it has become a powerful tool for reaching people in rural villages.

MBB now underwrites a weekly radio program promoting girls' education.  The show utilizes taped interviews with girls, mothers, teachers and government leaders, and also has a live call-in component.  We see it as a very useful, cost-effective way of spreading the word about the significance of girls' education.  It also gives women and girls a voice!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Sr Edvine Comes to California

Mercy Beyond Borders looks forward to welcoming Sister Edvine Tumwesigye, Principal of St Bakhita Girls Primary School in Sudan, to California in mid-March. Edvine will be attending an education conference and then spending time with MBB staff and Board members in the Bay Area. We also hope to fit in some good ol' rest and relaxation.

Through friends, Mercy Beyond Borders has gotten free tickets to the Monterey Aquarium and to Disneyland, sites guaranteed to surprise and delight anyone coming from Sudan.  The trip is MBB's way of thanking Edvine for all she does on behalf of girls' education in Sudan. At the same time, it gives MBB supporters in Calif a chance to get to know her.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Which Way Now?

The people of S. Sudan surprised the world with their peaceful, well-organized, and successful Referendum vote in January.  In fact, their enthusiastic first taste of democracy puts most Western democracies to shame: over 99% of registered voters (millions) turned up at the polls to cast their historic votes--and over 99% of the voters chose secession.

Now the question looms: what's next?  On July 9 their country will be born.  It is expected that the longterm ruler in the North, Omar al-Bashir, will allow the separation to occur, in exchange for lifting of economic sanctions against the North.  

However, on the horizon is the ongoing dispute over the oil-rich region of Abyei. It will vote whether to become part of the North or part of the new country in the South.  The vote to determine its fate has been indefinitely delayed by the North, while they send thousands of northerners into Abyei as new settlers.  This is reminiscent of how the Chinese gov't moved huge numbers of Chinese into Tibet to weaken the Tibetan culture and independence.  

Seen here is a picture of downtown Rumbek, in Southern Sudan.  There is no traffic light, but rather a painted sign of one, showing the newly-graded roads toward Wau and Juba.  (S. Sudan, which is the size of France, has only 30 miles of paved road.) Let's hope the leadership in the South will also show its people a way toward stability and development in the months ahead.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Braided Fish?

Yup, braided fish!  It was new to me, too:  thin fish from a nearby river artfully woven into long braids and sold in the outdoor marketplace in Rumbek town.  Take a look:
This market also sold fruit imported from Uganda and Kenya.  Despite Sudan's tropical climate, it is hard to find fresh fruit in the South. Perhaps that is the legacy of war, or simply the difficulty of transport. At any rate,   vendors in Rumbek town were charging $7.00 US dollars (an impossible amount for local residents) for a travel-bruised pineapple. No one was buying. At least the dried fish would not spoil!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Teaching about Soap

Anna Mijji, seen here in the orange t-shirt and white cap, is a Sudanese woman with a mission: she loves being with the Toposa women and children in the villages surrounding Narus, sharing with them simple ways to improve their health.  In this picture, Anna is teaching children about the marvels of soap and how its use can ward off many illnesses.  Anna continues the weekend HEALTH AND HYGIENE workshops begun in 2009 by Sr Kathleen.  She quickly draws a crowd wherever she goes.  Yes, handing out bars of soap gets people's attention, but then Anna uses the opportunity to pass on her knowledge about disease prevention. She explains to the women why it's important to cover their food against fly droppings. She demonstrates how boiling one's water before drinking it or cooking with it can eliminate most water-borne parasites.  She makes concrete the connection between hand-washing and the reduction of child mortality.  Mercy Beyond Borders gives Anna a modest stipend to do this work. Everyone benefits!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Long Road Ahead

I took this pix in 1992, when making my very first trip into S. Sudan.  At the time, civil war was raging. We drove for 11 hours north by northwest over the border from Kenya to Torit.  Our Land Rover was stopped every hour or so at checkpoints by barefoot boys carrying AK-47s, guarding the dusty, rutted road. We saw burned-out military tanks now and then, but not much else, until we stayed overnight in Kapoeta, the rebel stronghold, where hundreds of tall recruits marched at dawn to the orders of their commander. I'll never forget their strong voices singing in unison as their bare feet thumped the ground outside our tent.
In some ways, not much has changed in S. Sudan since 1992.  The land is still undeveloped. The roads are not yet paved. The people are still poor. In other ways, everything has changed!  The war is over; the rebels have formed a legitimate government; a peaceful referendum vote signals independence on the near horizon. Hope is in the air!
For another first-hand perspective on S.Sudan, check out the new blog from MBB volunteer Alison Staab:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Introducing another Sudan blogger

Starting in February, you can read the Sudan reflections of Alison Staab, MBB volunteer and supporter. Here's a sample of her views from a recent trip to Sudan:

"In November and early December of 2010 I went to South Sudan with Sr. Marilyn Lacey, founder of Mercy Beyond Borders, an organization which partners with Sudanese displaced women and girls in ways that alleviate their extreme poverty. We spent three weeks traveling around to visit some of the projects the organization funds, including schools, literacy classes for women, and small businesses that have benefitted by receiving micro loans provided by MBB.
     Since returning to the U.S. a month ago, I have been thinking a lot about Sudan. I’ve been noticing the contrast between lifestyle in the two places: the availability and abundance of food here, compared to the scarcity of food in Sudan. Clean water on tap in they typical American home, compared to a walk to the pump for the Sudanese woman or child - then a return walk home carrying a jerry can full of water on the head. Quality medical care here, versus scarce, understaffed and poorly supplied clinics in South Sudan. Free public school for every American child through age 18, contrasted with South Sudan, where less than 1.9 percent complete 8th grade.
     I’ve been remembering other things about Sudan as well: the openness and friendliness of the people you meet while walking down the street. The ubiquitous smiling faces, even when shadowed by those heavy jerry cans full of water. The pleasure in being together, and cooperation as they work around their homes, shown by Sudanese mothers, daughters, and younger sons. The responsibility demonstrated by older sons – by “older” here I mean 8 or 10 – as they move their cows around in search of grazing land.
     These are the two images of the Sudanese people I came away with that touched me most: their poverty, and their spirit. During the upcoming months I’ll be posting more about my experiences in Sudan and reflections on them in a new blog at If you are interested in learning about South Sudan, take a look at my blog periodically! Welcome and Enjoy!"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

200 years in 4 minutes!

By nearly every global poverty metric, Sudan ranks at or near the bottom when compared to other countries--and Southern Sudan is considerably less developed than northern Sudan.  There is hope that development may begin in earnest after S. Sudan becomes independent in mid-2011.  For a visual, visceral sense of the gap between rich countries and poor ones in terms of both wealth and health, take a look at this fascinating 4-min video which dramatizes in layman's language the "global standing" shifts of 200 countries over the past 200 years. Copy and paste this into your web browser:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

David and the Hyena

You’ve heard of David and Goliath. Let me tell you the story of David and the Hyena.  David lives in Mapuordit, S.Sudan.  When he was a young man tending cattle—as all young men do in S.Sudan--he was sleeping one night on the ground in the cattle camp at the edge of his cattle herd.  He was wakened by a hyena that pounced on him while a ring of other hyenas watched from a short distance. David wrestled the vicious attacker and managed to chase it off. 

The very next day at around 7 a.m. David was milking the cattle, as he did every morning.  He felt a tap on his shoulder.  He turned around to see who it was.  It was the same hyena!  It clawed at his face and gouged out both of David's eyes.  

At the time, there was no clinic or hospital in the area.  The villagers tended his wounds and so David lived to tell this story. But he is completely blind and has thick scars where his eyes used to be.  He is now one of the leaders living in a separate compound for the disabled outside Mapuordit, S. Sudan.  Though he cannot see, he smiles easily and says that his life is good.