A time to reflect.

The main purpose of my last visit to Khartoum in January was for me to install and commission financial management software and teach a number of staff in using the Programme. I was also charged with improving reporting methods. 36 hours before departure I still hadn’t received my entry permit. When it did arrive it came with a “health warning”: The authorities had imposed a requirement that I should be accompanied at all times by a “man from the security” – even staying in the hotel with me. It seems reasonable to assume that they had suspected that the purpose of my visit was to evangelise. Now those of you who know me understand that I’m not one to be demonstrative of religion; in fact if the truth were known I struggle sometimes with my own faith! During the visit I found evidence of substantial persecution of the Catholic Church in Sudan. This spills over to the SVP as it is seen by the Authorities to be inextricably linked to the Church – even though our work is carried out without any discrimination through ethnic origin, sexual orientation or religion. We simply help the poor in the best way we can and without question. In the UK and Europe we are blessed with the freedom of movement and the ability to express our views without fear of recrimination. We never give a second thought to what it must be like to live in a country which is ruled by a government who mistrust everyone.

In stark comparison the visitor to South Sudan is met with broad smiles and a good natured welcome wherever he goes. It is difficult to believe that the population of South Sudan has come out smiling after years of bombardment, death and destruction but smiles are in abundance – even in the poorest of the poor.  In any war there are casualties but here they’ve suffered more than their fair share. Evidence of care and compassion in our members is in abundance. The Society is fully aware of the need to separate the basic Vincentian work through one-to-one contact, and the development and management of major support programmes which help masses of people. Although baby feeding centres stop babies from dying, and medical centres cure illness, it is vocational training which is providing people with the ability to help themselves through improving their skills. The effects of this programme are exponential in growth as people who have been trained pass on their newly acquired skills to others.

So why is the SVP doing the work of Government? I hear you ask. The government has its work cut out to rebuild the infrastructure needed and priorities are roads, provision of reliable sources of power etc. A few days before we arrived, the country ran out of petrol and diesel – although they have the oil they can’t refine it! As a consequence the oil has to be pumped huge distances through Sudan to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, taken out of the country, refined and brought back in by road through Uganda. Power cuts are frequent; 5 or 6 a day is normal. I am assured by the senior people we have met in Government that at the same time they will be developing social welfare, healthcare, and education but all this takes time. In the meantime we can’t turn our backs on the poor.

South Sudan is like a new born baby. Once the umbilical cord has been cut the baby still has to be cared for. Once the SVP in South Sudan become recognised as a new National Council in their own right they are still going to need our support for many years to come.

Thank you dear reader for your interest and kind words of encouragement. If you would like to know more about the SVP Twinnage Programme please got to http://www.twinnage.org.uk/  I’ll be posting a full report on this website within the next few weeks.

 THE END

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The journey home

Well we eventually returned home on Monday evening after an eventful journey. Now those who know Terry Brown will agree that he is laid back in most circumstances. When Terry starts to show some anxiety all my intentions to stay cool go by the wayside. After sitting in the VIP lounge (yes you read correctly) for some time after our flight was due to board we went in search of it outside on the apron, only to be told that it was the aircraft just taxiing for take-off. After recovering from that shock we returned to the standard lounge to be informed that it had not been our aircraft at all! What chaos!!!! We arrived in Addis and eventually and (after much frustration and shouting at the Ethiopian Airlines ground manager – another long story) we managed to get to a transit hotel. Apparently because our flight was late again the driver got fed up and gone home. The rest of the onward journey to London and then Manchester was uneventful in comparison.

In my thank you email to our members in South Sudan I had to apologise if, at times during the week I wasn’t my normal self. After suffering with a stomach problem I felt nauseous all the time. The good news is that I lost 6lbs in weight! However, I’m pleased to report that I was able to eat my normal “return from abroad” meal – egg and chips prepared of course by my lovely Chief Wife.

Thank you so much to all our members in Juba for their hospitality and friendship during the week. I was so pleased to meet some old (well young) friends who I’ve known for many years as a result of my visits to Khartoum. It gave me much pleasure to see the incredible progress made by some of the “boys” we have looked after, trained and encouraged. Many now hold senior positions in the South Sudan civil service and private sector. This provides evidence that what we are delivering through these programmes is working and is having an impact on the lives of many; what I find incredible is the story of Ding who was one of the boys at our farm in Buri, Khartoum and is now repaying our Society by providing the same opportunity for other boys by renting a house and looking after 14 boys at his own expense!

I can’t let this opportunity go by without repeating my grateful thanks to Mama Lucy our highly respected President of Juba SVP Central Council who quietly and without thought for herself carries on the work of helping the poor on a one to one basis in a way that we all respect. What she does is at the core of Vincentian work and I’m pleased to see that this is growing from strength to strength in South Sudan as recognised by the Archbishop.

Time to reflect on the last 10 days. Tomorrow I’ll write my final blog in this series with my thoughts and conclusions. 

Saturday – To the Uganda border

Dear reader. I promised to update you after a couple of busy days.

The only tarmac road outside the capital, Juba is the road which runs to the Ugandan border crossing at Nimule. The 3 hour drive provides a good overview of the landscape of South Sudan with deep forests and rolling hills.  I mentioned the words “sharp contrast” the other day in respect to climate and geography. We were driving along and I was comparing the ease of travel in South Sudan to the journey we make in Sudan between Khartoum and El Obeid; on this we have to endure “security” check points every half hour or so which makes life difficult and causes quite a bit of anxiety as all the officers are armed and many without uniforms. I should have kept quiet and a little less complacent as a few minutes later we came across a queue of traffic. Betram overtook the queue, drove straight to the front where we were stopped by a man in military uniform with a radio. The man and Betram exchanged pleasantries and had a reasonable long conversation. The man in uniform explained that they had closed the road whilst they removed some land mines. Betram explained that he had in the car a “high level delegation from the UK and an International Vice President”. I was thinking that if he looked into the car he’d realise that it was only us when I realised that the windows were blacked out anyway. After much shouting into the radio the man then told us that they would stop working on the mine clearance whilst we went through. Yes – and the rest of the queue remained where they were!

The Community of Nimule are vulnerable people made up mostly of refugees who have returned to their homeland after civil war to find their area which has been a battlefield for 22 years offers no prospects or job opportunities.  The original proposal for this project was based on the number of total beneficiaries being in excess of 2,000 in the local community and permanent employment for 8 staff including orphans and widows. The project is for the production of seedlings and saplings of a wide range of trees including for example, mahogany, cypress, fruit trees etc. These will eventually be used for building, delineating boundaries, furniture manufacture, shade (something we don’t think about) fruit etc. This project is very much in its infancy and has yet to prove that the original objectives can be achieved. We need a business plan based on what they have learnt so far and which will provide focus for future development.

Isn’t this where I came in 15 years ago?????? 

WOW! What a welcome we received at the SVP Community Development Centre at Luluggu. Wait until you see the video! The road from the gates right up to the Centre itself was lined with young people singing and we were dressed in formal tribal shawls and beads. I was invited to cut the ribbon to open the new meeting hall and realised that there was a TV camera there again. I hope that my face didn’t show the embarrassment I felt at being treated in this way. (probably a surprise to people who know me).

The serious shortage of technicians and a skilled labour force in South Sudan was identified as an opportunity for the SVP to help people of working-age. These people are made up of school dropouts, street boys, ex war combats and other unskilled adults. Through this program, the following objectives have been achieved:

General:

  • To develop human capabilities of working age people to be productive.
  • To provide them with necessary skills to perform professional occupations in the labor market.
  • To strengthen values of equal rights, justice, fair and equal social responsibility and participation, non-discrimination and equal treatment among men and women.

By creating jobs the SVP not only changed the lives of beneficiaries, but have responded to economic and social needs of development and stability in the new country.

The training disciplines are: Roofing and plumping, Computer repairs, Welding, Refrigeration, First aid, Administration, secretariat and office management, Child-care training (small scale training for women). Business management, Agriculture and agribusiness.

Since the start of the programme in September 2009 the total number trained is 1,215. Of these 1,137 graduated, 670 (58.9%), are confirmed to have found jobs or started their own business.

The government now recommends that we change to a technical school instead of VT centre. They also request an expansion training programs to other states. It is clear that the Centre has changed  the lives of graduates, families and communities. It is also responding to economic and social needs of development and is creating stability in the region irrespective of gender or tribe.

Other Community development projects include:

  • Primary school/child care facility for children 5-7 years old, 500 children.
  • Baby feeding program for 520 under five infants. (Thousands of babies can’t benefit due to shortage of  funds)
  • Adult education program adults. 60 graduate yearly if funds are available.
  • Health awareness campaign and health education. (120 yearly)

On our return to Juba we met with the Archbishop of Juba; a lovely man with a wicked sense of humour. After each of us had taken pains to introduced ourselves with some seriousness he said with a smile: “I know I’ve seen you on the TV news! Tomorrow is going to be a long day starting at 7-00 with a 3 hour drive each way to see the Green tree project and Nimule nursery, beneficiary fields and demonstration farm at Moli. This is followed by a farewell meeting.

Dear reader on Sunday we start our journey home with an overnight at Addis Ababa so I’ll finish my blog on Tuesday.

A day of contrast

The first rule of marketing is “never build up customer expectations above those which you know you can satisfy”. On our first day we met with the SVP Central Council of Juba and some of the members. At that meeting we were presented with a document entitled “A report to the High Level Delegation”. My response to that was to say “,,,,, but it’s only me and Terry” Clearly someone has been exaggerating.

Today has been a day of complete contrast. In the last few days we’ve visited impoverished people in their villages; today we’ve met with government officials. At our first meeting with the Commissioner of Juba County we were met by a television camera and our meeting will be included as a news item on TV this evening. This meeting was followed by a meeting with the Minister of Education and then after lunch with the undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Labour.  A wide range of issues were discussed for example the concerns expressed by the Commissioner regarding the perception the rest of the world has of South Sudan. He emphasised their commitment to human rights, and the role of the SVP in solving some of the problems..

The Minister of Education complimented us on the exceptional vocational training facilities at our centre at Lulugu which is providing opportunities for employment through training. He also thought that we could be able to assist in addressing problems with literacy and numeracy and the development of a school in the same area.

Our meeting with the undersecretary of state for labour (an impressive lady) covered subjects such as how she recognised SVP as a private sector stakeholder and my suspicion is that she’s thinking along the lines of us eventually being a contractor to the government – such is the high esteem in which she holds the SVP here.

So why isn’t the government doing all this work I here you ask? The short answer is that they will eventually. After decades of civil war any revenue from oil will have to be spent on clearing debt, improving the infrastructure (I’ve lost power several times a day including once whilst writing this blog). Then they can turn their attention to health, education and reducing poverty. Today I’ve heard the expression “we’re planning to” several times; only time will tell how long it will take to turn plans into action. Until then it will be the work of organisations like ours to alleviate suffering and improve the lives of people who are destitute.

PS Its the first time in many years that a lady has written down her name and telephone number and passed it t me. In fact it was before we had email addresses too!!!!!

For readers who aren’t fully aware of the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) we are an international charitable organisation active in 149 counties throughout the world. I’m visiting South Sudan as a member of the SVP (England & Wakes) International Twinnage Committee responsible for Sudan. I’ve visited our members in Khartoum many times in the last 13 years but, up to now it’s been considered unsafe to visit South Sudan.

Sudan’s civil war is similar to that which we now see in Syria – the southern rebels fight with the Khartoum Government dominated life since 1956. Amnesty International report that 2 million people have been killed and 4 million people were displaced from Southern Sudan to the North.  The peace agreement signed on the 9th January 2005 resulted in the formation of South Sudan on the 9th July 2011. Some of the displaced people are now beginning to return home.

Our hosts are the SVP South Sudan Central Council President Lucy Akello, who is taking us to see some of the beneficiaries; the main work of the SVP, as in England & Wales is carried out on a one to one basis by our members. Our other host is Dr Betram Kuol who is responsible for the major support Programmes which help many tens of thousands of people. These programmes are Vocational training, Medical clinics, and Baby feeding.

The first thing that hit me was the sharp contrast in the landscape. Compared to the sub-Saharan desert of the barren north, South Sudan is green. However, the picturesque round mud brick houses with straw roofs only serve to hide abject poverty. In the first village we visited today we were told that some of the villagers couldn’t go out into the surrounding fields because of land mines – in fact 5 people were killed only 3 weeks ago. However the community spirit is absolutely incredible. We live in what could be called a reasonably affluent area; the houses have long drives and as a result we rarely see neighbours. In the village we saw today people live in close proximity to each other. They share their possessions and even cook for each other. I’m not going anywhere the question “What would I choose if I did have the choice?”  but it does make you stop and think!!!

………..To be continued………….

Arrived in South Sudan

I’ve added Addis Ababa as the tenth on my list of airports I’ve been to without staying in the country! The connecting flight to Juba in a small twin engine turbo prop aircraft ended abruptly on the runway when the pilot decided that his plane was broken and wanted a new one. On our arrival in Juba 3 hours late we had to endure the bedlam of the arrivals hall (shed) where everyone is fighting for their place in the queue for visas. I should be used to all this by now in Sudan but I’m really looking forward to the time when the oil revenues of this, the newest county in the world are spent on the infrastructure. Without this South Sudan cannot hope to attract the foreign investment needed. Business people from other parts of the world are not prepared to suffer something which appears to be endemic in all the African countries I’ve visited. The frustration was reduced somewhat when we were introduced to the man in charge who, as a boy grew up in one of our boys homes in Khartoum; at least it made our entry into South Sudan a little easier!

And now down to business……………………