I grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where at the time, my parents were serving as missionaries. My best friends were girls from local families.
Some of the most unnecessary conflicts happen when we forget our common humanity. “Us” and “Them” become not just terms of distinction, but of violent division. In South Sudan, divisions along ethnic lines have become a key element of the conflict, as leaders appeal to tribal loyalty by belittling other groups. Tragically, people have been injured or killed solely on the basis of which ethnic group they identify with, or are suspected of identifying with. The increased tension that has come in the past year has left many believing that only their people will listen to, represent, and protect them: whether that be Dinka or Nuer, or one of the other dozens of people groups in South Sudan. But World Relief’s staff member Moses Kenyi has refused to allow ethnic differences to become a catalyst for conflict in his interactions with others. Moses has served as World Relief’s Food Security Officer in South Sudan for three years. His work saves lives and dignifies the labor of farmers; and as South Sudan faces an increased threat of famine, his work has become even more important.
Recently, he visited Unity State to do a food security assessment as a part of World Relief’s response to the acute crisis in the region. Despite the risk this posed to his own well-being and his family’s concern for his safety, he understood the importance of his work. Moses believes that all South Sudanese deserve compassion and a chance to survive and thrive, regardless of their ethnic differences.
Moses is from Central Equatoria – a state that has largely stayed out of the current conflict, after the initial disruption. He lacks the traditional facial markers that are generally identified with specific ethnic groups, but is tall and lean, unlike many Equatorians, so people often try to determine if he is Dinka or Nuer although he is neither. His unique position allows him to see past the ethnic divisions that have caused so much conflict and suffering. During his trip to Unity State, Moses was often asked, “Are you for us, or for the enemy?” His response has always been, “I’m not for one or the other. I’m South Sudanese, so I’m for all people.”
Moses continues to be a beacon of unity and peace in a place torn by conflict. He matter-of-factly confronts the false differences based on ethnic identity that have perpetuated the violence in South Sudan and continues to care for the most vulnerable, irrespective of which tribe they profess allegiance to.
To learn more about how we Wage Peace in South Sudan and other countries, visit http://worldrelief.org/wagepeace.
Stephen Good, World Relief’s Agribusiness Senior Technical Advisor based in Mozambique, recently monitored some of our agricultural programs in South Sudan. The following are his impressions of World Relief’s sustainable development work with South Sudanese farmers. South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. Officially declaring independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, this infant republic is in the initial stages of forming a cohesive nation. But the road to unity has been violent and today marks one year of this new country being at war with itself. Beyond conflict, South Sudan also faces more common, natural challenges.
Western Equatoria State receives rain from April to December. The soils are relatively good, but are easily damaged by exposure to the hot sun and rains. Local farmers generally use a field for no more than two years before abandoning it to slash and burn a new area of forest. This is intensive and expensive work as extra hired labor is often required. Plus, it inflicts long-term damage on the environment.
Even though travel is a significant challenge in this region, World Relief is working with local farmers to ensure lasting development. Just to get to the project site takes an hour and a half on a propjet plane, followed by a 3 hour trip in a Landcruiser, or an 8-10 hour, bone-jarring automobile ride from Juba.
Where peace ensues in Western Equatoria State, opportunities abound everywhere you look. World Relief’s agriculture program for food security, sponsored by Canadian Food Grains Bank, provides improved seed for maize and cassava to 600 farmers. A significant focus is helping them to multiply these seeds for future use and learning how to protect these seeds from disease and pests. Equally important is the work in teaching improved conservation agriculture methods. Green manures and cover crops (legumes) provide a living source of mulch and nitrogen which is able to restore the soils quickly and sustainably. Using these practices could completely eliminate the destruction of the forests, improve yields, reduce labor and even allow farmers to improve marginal land to a strong productive state.
Farmers are also given opportunity to join World Relief’s Savings for Life program. Savings for Life trains people on forming and facilitating savings groups. Savings group members learn how to save and borrow in a format that doesn’t require a formal banking institution. Many of the farmers who are in savings groups have started using loans from the group to improve their situations by purchasing seed, hiring labor and expanding their growing areas. One farmer said, “If we do agriculture, we can produce crops, sell them and save more. If we do savings, we can have more money for farming and production.”
To learn more about World Relief's work toward sustainable peace in South Sudan, read our most recent statement from our advocacy experts at http://worldrelief.org/file/advocacy/south_sudan_statement.pdf.
As the tall maize grows in her fenced-in yard in South Sudan, Rebecca prepares cornmeal while her elderly mother and four youngest children play alongside. Thankful for this harvest and the food it provides her large family, she contemplates what the next few months might bring, especially in light of the major food crisis in her country.
Rebecca is a farmer, trained by World Relief’s agricultural experts in crop diversification and resource management. Proudly pointing to her crops, she explains that because the rains had been good, she expects a better crop than last year. But this came at a hard price. In January, Rebecca had seven cows, but the fighting from the country’s civil war closed off the markets, and the food supply was low from last season’s drought. She’d sold a cow to get bags of maize as starter seeds, but as the months of fighting went on, more was needed. As a widow and sole breadwinner for her family of 9, she had to risk the 16-hour walk once a month to trade a cow for food to feed her family. February, March, April, May, and June dragged by and before she knew it, she had only one cow left. Rebecca hoped her harvest would come quickly.
“And then the raindrops started,” Rebecca said. The rains that nourished the crops would guarantee a good late-summer harvest. At the same time, World Relief distributed a corn and soy bean blend to the most vulnerable in the area and will continue this monthly for the rest of the year to avert the predicted famine.
This harvest and the food supplies should feed Rebecca’s family until January 2015. In a continued effort to fight the food shortage, World Relief will also distribute vegetable seeds (groundnuts, eggplant, sesame, tomatoes), which will provide a nutritional supplement and be an income generator during the winter months. But with ongoing fighting and what the UN describes as the ‘worst food crisis in the world’, significant challenges remain for Rebecca, her family and millions of others in South Sudan. Even though Rebecca isn’t sure what the outcome will be, her faith gives her hope, “Everything is in God’s hands,” she says.
That’s why World Relief stands with the people of South Sudan as we celebrate World Food Day and continue to empower many to fight famine on the frontlines.
Nama is a mother of four and a member of a local savings group in South Sudan. She first attended one of the weekly meetings with some of her friends. “We felt challenged to save our money,” she said. “At the moment, we did not see the money to save.”
Nama first believed that a humanitarian organization would provide loans to members of the group. When she and her friends found out that members actually loaned money to one another from within their own pooled resources, several people declined joining. Nama, however, wanted to learn more.
She was sick at the time but could not afford treatment. “One needs about SSP 100-150 to get proper treatment,” she said. That cost is the equivalent of about $30 USD.
“We started saving our income little by little with the hope that we could give assistance to ourselves.” Said Nama. “By this time, we had given up all the initial thinking that we would get any money from the organization.”
When borrowing began, Nama was the second to receive a loan from the group. Two others applied for loans on that day but declined and agreed to wait in order to protect Nama’s health. She was approved to receive SSP 100 for her treatment. In the same time period, she lost a relative and the group gave her SSP 25 as a form of condolences.
Nama has been repaying her loan since January. She says that the group not only gave her access to the resources she needs, but a group of new friends. “The group members kept on visiting me when I was sick,” she said. “They comfort me and I feel I have brothers and sisters.”
When asked about her future plans, Nama said her health will give her new opportunities. She plans on devoting time and energy to her garden and using her savings in eight months to start a kiosk so she can sell goods after farming.