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.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jubilant Referendum Voting

Though I am in California now, not Southern Sudan, it seems that nearly all the news about the Referendum taking place this week in Sudan (and in 8 other countries around the world where substantial numbers of Sudanese live) is positive. More than positive, it's been downright jubilant: long lines of eager voters, people dancing in the street, war widows saying that those who died fighting for independence will "feel" this victory even though they did not live to see the day.  Surely the soil has been seeded for a new beginning. May peace take root and grow!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Can we learn to be peaceful?

During December, while we were staying in the town of Rumbek in Southern Sudan, the compound near us was raided by men with AK-47s looking for (and getting) cash from the ex-patriates living there.  This was, I’m told, the fifth such armed robbery in the neighborhood over the past month.  Anxiety fills the air regarding the January Referendum . Some Southerners are already moving their women and children down to Kenya’s Kakuma Ref camp again for safety. NGO’s and the UN are mobilizing for the influx of half a million Southerners who’ve been living near Khartoum for many years. 

President Bashir has declared that all Southerners will be instantly unwelcome if the vote results in secession, as expected. So throughout the South there is significant unrest mixed with hope for an independent future. Sadly, violence remains the norm in Sudan: wife-beating, cattle-raiding, family feuding, drunken shootings, ethnic rivalries, school riots.  The Bishop of Rumbek, Cesar Mazzolari, pulled most of his personnel out of the town of Marial Lou—where MBB had a thriving micro-enterprise project with a group of women—after rioters attacked the Principal (a nun) of the local school over alleged injustices regarding teacher salaries and student resources. 

Violence has become the default response to any problem, real or perceived. It’s understandable in view of decades of war, but tragic nonetheless.  The human heart needs to be taught how to wage peace.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

War or Peace?

The January 9th, 2011 Referendum is on everyone’s mind.  Secession is the clear choice for southerners, but no one trusts the government of Khartoum to let it happen peacefully.  Already the UN and the various NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in S.Sudan are strategizing ways to accommodate the expected influx of a million Southerners who currently live in northern Sudan.  After the Referendum, they will immediately become unwanted in the North, instant refugees or displaced persons as they trek southward.  Meanwhile, both North and South are actively beefing up their military along the dividing line between North and South.  Twice during November, Antonov planes from Khartoum dropped bombs on the town of Aweil, which just happens to be in the oil-producing region of S.Sudan.  “Sorry,” said Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum in an unusually candid moment, “We meant to drop it on Darfur.”  Obviously the North is trying to depopulate the area so that there will be no southerners there to vote for secession. 
This photo shows a bridge outside the town of Rumbek that cracked under the weight of tanks rumbling across it as they headed northward to fortify the internal border.  We had to exit our vehicle and walk across, while the car carefully inched its way over the section bent by the tanks. We made it across safely—twice!