South Sudan: Part 2 One of my favorite historians, Thomas Cahill, has a book series entitled The Hinges of History in which he tells the stories of certain groups of people throughout civilization who have, in essence, changed the course of history for the better. I fell in love with these books before I ever got to page one; the preface of the series still brings a smile to my face and gives me pause for hope. The opening lines read:
We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage- almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance.
... The great gift-givers, arriving in the moment of crisis, provided for transition, for transformation, and even for transfiguration, leaving us a world more varied and complex, more awesome and delightful, more beautiful and strong than the one they had found.
These are the narratives of grace and hope that I found being bestowed upon the world by great 'gift-givers' on my short trip to South Sudan with World Concern.
Meet Helen. She was born and raised in South Sudan and works for World Concern in Kuajok, Warrap State, South Sudan.
She has two young children and a husband who she has left behind, for a season, in order to be a part of the work World Concern is doing in Kuajok. One of the things I love most about the work WC does is that it employs locally if at all possible. Helen is a great example of this. Not only does she serve people, but she also brings in a living-wage income for her own family. This is invaluable when working with the world's most poor; providing employment opportunities, which in turn develops dignity in the individual and family. Opportunity is always better than a hand out. It's the concept of short-term change versus long-term sustainability. Beyond emergency aid situations, World Concern is leading the way in opportunities for true and lasting change in impoverished villages. Helen is a perfect example.
Helen is quiet and gentle, her smile girlish and perfectly kind. Her job is to work with the villagers overseeing micro-financing and supplying loans for those starting their business in the village market of Kuajok. She does her job with confidant dignity and beauty. Walking through the village with her, was like walking with the most popular girl in high school. She knew everyone and she had everyone's respect. The picture above is of Helen leading us through the market. Yes, that's the market.
She knows every persons name. And, as a financial supporter of World Concern, I was delighted to see that she could tell us what each person was given through a micro-finanace loan provided by WC. Each hut has something different. Mostly, families used their micro-finanace loans to purchase plastic chairs, tables to display their goods, tea kettles to start their tea-houses or large nets for fishing. Recipients of micro-finance loans purchase their products from World Concern at 60% of the actual cost and they finance it through a micro-finanace loan that WC provides. They then have between 3-6 months to repay their small loans. And this is life-giving for the people of Kuajok because many of them have nothing.
Kuajok a community largely built and funded by the UN as a transition town for refugees. Basically, if you live in Khartoum, where you have spent years facing murder and torture because of your religion, you escape with your lives... and that's it. You head to Abeyei. But the town of Abeyei is at the heart of the border dispute between the north and south... so you get bombed there too. Finally- you head to Kuajok. The place the UN and international communities have set up as a haven and refuge for those bombed out of their homeland.
We spent the night at a small hostile in the village. As we sat, sipping bottles of coke after a long, hot day, three small boys ran in through the front-gate lined with grimacing barbed-wire. You could see only the outlines of their small bodies and their eyes piercing through the dark. They couldn't have been much older than my Annie. Five, maybe six years old. Their hands fumbled through the trash can and pulled out the first thing they touched. The watermelon rind that the NGO workers from the World Food Program had just left behind. Without hesitation, they shoved it in their mouths eating- attacking the food as fast as they could. They made it less than a minute before the hotel staff saw them and yelled at them to get away.
How do you eat after that?
Sustainable Change Enter World Concern and the sweet spirit of Helen and the other amazing staffers. Yes, they meet families in their darkest moments and provide basic aide like nutra-butter and other life-saving essentials for hungry children like that. But they also provide the tools, savings groups, education classes, emergency aid, and microfinance loans that these people need to truly be able to start over again. They focus on helping the entire community pull itself up out of poverty.
Meet a young farmer! We met this boy and his mother outside of the village of Kuajok. He looks serious because he has just finished showing us how he plants the seeds for the family crops. He plants each seed with pride and precision. The seeds are purchased and (often matched) from World Concern. Again- purchased because instilling dignity in people occurs when we enable them to help themselves. We travel through corn fields to reach the boy and his mother who are overjoyed to see Julius, an incredibly intelligent Kenyan man who runs the World Concern operations in Kuajok. Before we disappear in corn stalks we hear her voice. She is asking for more seed. Something new to plant. Julius tells her there isn't any left- he will have to check and see if he can make something happen.
Meet Julius. Like many other World Concern staffers in South Sudan, he is a Kenyan, away from his wife and children serving the people in South Sudan because he believes in being an agent of change. "People are grateful for seed," he says as we walk through a tiny trail of sorghum, "It does not matter if you have money here... there is nothing to buy. What matters is if you have food. If you have no money, but you have a crop, you can live."
One day money will matter to this village of people, but now, seeds are more important he says. Food trumps everything. And this boy and his mother work with their bare hands and feet every day of the year to make sure their crops are properly tended to.
World Concern has helped over 250 families in Kuajok purchase ox-plows. Ox plows mean that boys like him don't have to get on their hands and knees to work the fields... at least not always. Julius and his team distribute ox-plows and help villagers know what types of seed to plant and how to plant more effectively. On top of everything else Julius does- he and his team have started the first community bank in Kuajok AND taught grown men and women how to start a savings group. There are over 150 savings groups that have started because of the work World Concern is doing on the ground- and this translates into more people being able to buy more ox-plows!
Opportunity= Hope We had the privilege of meeting with the Minister of Agriculture for Warrup State while in Kuajok. A stately, kind-hearted, hard-working man who requested hundreds more ox-plows from World Concern. "Ox-plows," he said, "Are the way for a future for our people. We need more ox-plows. We also need more seed. The state would like to partner with World Concern to help our people eat."
He said it as a statement- not a question. It was simply, "This is what we need. Get your people on it and let's make it happen. Let's be partners."
And I suppose that's why people like me go to places like that.
To come back home and tell you that they need more ox-plows. To tell you that there are little boys eating watermelon rinds out of trash cans. To tell you that the day before we were at the market in Kuajok, a mother had a baby and left it, umbilical cord and all, in the market because she could not feed it. To tell you that some mother's are desperate enough to give you, a complete stranger, their child- if you will only feed it. To tell you that there are people dying because they do not have food. And this is not to make you or I feel guilty, as some people complain, this is just the plain ole' fashioned truth.
It's real. It's happening. Feel guilty if you like...
or freaking do something about it.
Girls like me...
go to places like that to come back and say
We need more seeds.
We need more ox-plows.
And the Minister of Agriculture in Warrup State needs about seven computers for his staff members!
We need money to fund the people on the ground- working around the clock to create lasting change in the most impoverished places.
Change does not happen over night. It's maddening to think that the answer to the little boys eating out of trash cans is an ox-plow and seeds. I'd rather like to think we can scoop them up, feed them and then put them on a ship to countries where adoptive families will take them in. And in some situations, in some countries, this is part of the answer but not the whole answer
The hard truth is that the real answer lies in addressing long-term solutions to end poverty versus short-term hand-outs.
For a girl who likes to fix things- like immediately this seems like cruel and unusual punishment. But the truth remains: An ox-plow changes a village; a white girl from the west giving a single hand-out does not.
So, ox-plow it is!
Goats! Chickens! Pigs!
(And yes, Sherri and Kendrick- fish fingerlings!)
"A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity, to choose well or to choose badly."
-Archbishop Desmund TuTu
World Concern is seeking out and partnering with the world's most poor to create sustainable change and bring hope to the most desperate. You can support a village in South Sudan today. Or buy on ox-plow for a village. Or a clean water well. Or a goat, chicken, pig...
You get the picture. Be a part of re-writing the history of places like Kuajok, South Sudan. Give generously today.