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.
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.
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!
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!
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: www.southsudanreflections.blogspot.com.