Friday, February 25, 2011

The work of a volunteer

In the Wau branch I have supported the volunteer coordinator in creating a volunteer management system in which the volunteers take more initiative and responsibility for the volunteer work they do in their community. It is nice to see that the work we have done is starting to pay off.

One example is from Udici – a village about one hour from Wau. Like any other village in South Sudan this place was destroyed during the war and the people of Udici only began returning in 2006 slowly rebuilding their life and village. We have worked in Udici for 4 years on community based health as well as the establishment of a health facility. As a result of the work there is now a group of very active volunteers in the area.
Training the volunteers
This group of volunteers now make quarterly work plans in which they have a number of health related activities such as awareness on malaria and HIV/AIDS, clean-up campaign in the community, etc. By using a work plan the group is now able to make needs assessments of the community and act on identified needs. For this reason the group decided to embark on an activity that was not directly related to health, but for which the need was big.

The village school

Outside Udici there is a small village with three very dedicated teachers teaching 75 children (10 girls, 65 boys) 1st – 4th graders. However, these teachers have no facilities and the children have been receiving education sitting in the shade under the trees – changing position with the sun.

Children inside the new school
Our volunteers felt they could make a difference and by using local materials they built four class rooms and a teacher’s room. The teachers are highly motivated to continue their good work based on this high recognition by the community. The children are loving coming to school with their new class rooms. And finally, the volunteers are happy being able to support the development of their community.
The teachers outside the new school
SRCS and myself are very happy for seeing the fruits of months of hard work in establishing a volunteer management system that helps bring out the best in all of us J.This story once again confirm what I have experienced during my past year here. That the people of South Sudan has a very strong sense of community and are willing to support in any way the development of their country. Now we can only hope that the politicians of this country will make the same efforts to ensure that peace and development prevails.

This is much needed – as the picture above is showing our volunteers distributing jerry cans and cups for the student, who has no other choice but to drink from the water source you see at the next photo!!!

Only water source around

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Awareness campaign

Some volunteers from Sudanese Red Crescent has, with support from Danish Red Cross, started a music an drama group. The volunteers are really good and super efficient in awareness work. They go to the different local communities in which we work and make great campaigns. I finally managed to find the time to accompany them – this time to a small town, Maju about one hour outside Wau town.

Experience has taught me that nothing starts on time so when I arrived at 12:30 (campaign was set to start at 11 am) I was just on time for the opening 

The campaign is a full-day programme consisting of songs and dramas about different health related themes. The themes of the day were: polio, diarrhea, food hygiene, alcoholism and HIV/AIDS. The dramas were really good and entertaining and brought forward some important messages. The songs had clear messages as well and the rhythms were so good that we had to get up and dance several times. Of course there was also room for some traditional songs and war dances from Maju.

The turn-out was great. This was the first time in the history of Maju (a small place of 400 people) that music and drama had been performed in their village. Everybody had a great day and brought back with them some important messages about how keep themselves and their family health – what a wonderful day!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Elections in Sudan

According to the 2005 peace agreement election for the different political organs should take place as part of the process. The peace agreement covers a 6-year period with the understanding that both parties from North and South should work towards unity. For this reason, it is important that elections take place so people in both North and South feel represented during the political discussions. Circumstances have unfortunately lead to a delay in the elections and people are already now more interested in the January 2011 referendum that will determine if South Sudan will become an independent country. The momentum for ensuring a united Sudan has passed making this election a bit of a farce. Also, it should be noted that when the peace agreement was negotiated none of the parties were supportive of the idea of elections – it was a demand from the international community who has a tendency to see democratic elections as equal to peace (Afghanistan, Iraq and now Sudan)

But the peace agreement must be respected and the first democratic elections in 24 years were undertaken in April. In South there was election for no less that 12 different posts (this includes president in Unity, president in semi-autonoms South, parliament in Unity and South, governor and state assembly)! This would have been a challenge in an established democracy and in South Sudan with little access to information and many illiterate is was quite a task. At the end, the voting period was extended from 3 to 5 days so that everyone had a change to vote and all things considered things went pretty well.

The resulst was rather predictable; Bashir won as president of the Unity government (yes, that Bashir, the guy with an international arrest warrant from ICC for crimies against humanity in Darfur) and Salva Kiir, leader of SPLM, won in the South (SPLM is the political wing of Sudan Peoples Liberation Army and co-signature of the peace agreement). However, the election for governor in the ten States of the South showed some disturbing tendencies with an SPLM that is weakened by poor leadership and tribal fractions. In the name of democracy this can be seen as positive but when keeping in mind that South Sudan could become independent in January 2011 it is important to have a strong leadership with support from the population to avoid the first chapter in South Sudans story as independent nation to be starting with civil war. Still, the election was an important step but there is a long way to go till the people of South Sudan reaches a “happy ending”…

For the Sudanese Red Crescent it was a busy time. The government had requested support in terms of volunteers ready to provide first aid when needed – in all parts of the country. Luckily, the situation remained peaceful most places, but during times of disturbance the volunteers did an excellent job.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Visit to Raga

Western Bahr El Ghazal State is about twice the size of Denmark (90,000 km2) with a population of approximately 400,000 people. The state is divided into three counties, in two of these Danish Red Cross is working and the German Red Cross is working in the third. Currently, I am working on the volunteer structure of Sudanese Red Crescent in the State covering all three counties so of course I had to go to Raga (the third county) to visit the office there.
There is a flight twice a week but we had no time to sit around waiting for a plane so we, the volunteer coordinator and I, jumped in a car and went on a 7 hour long road trip. The road to Raga is still under construction. The first two hours we went with full speed but after that it took us something like 5 hours to cover 150 km. And want a bumpy ride that was…..

Despite the broken backs it was a beautiful trip with lots of baboons, different kinds of monkeys, gazelles and other animals along the road. There were few people and you really feel how isolated the villages are.

In Raga I stayed with German Red Cross delegate, Roberto – yes, an Italian. He did a great job as guide. Raga is a very nice place, bigger than I expected but with lots of air between the houses unlike Wau that has more of a “big-city-feel” to it…well, at least in South Sudan terminology. But just like Wau, Raga has a big church built by the Italian missionaries. Unfortunately, civil war had affected the church and it is no longer functional.

The trip home was extra exciting since the Sopo river, completely dry when we passed it on the way there, had filled up and blocked all traffic. At the river bank were several people who had spent the last two nights there waiting for their means of transportation (bus, truck, car) to cross the river. For us there was no need for worry. Our driver, Awad, drove straight through the river and even started helping others getting their car across – what can I say: Toyota Landcruiser!

And then it was time for the entertainment of the day when the kwajaa (the white girl) pulled up her pants and crossed - and then went back in for this picture!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A new chief in town

Already during my first stay in Wau was I invited on a rather special experience that I would like to share with you.

My colleague, Mariana, comes from a small village, Abushaka, 40 minutes drive outside of Wau. In the village it was apparently time to get rid of the old chief and replace him with a new and younger model (let me just mention that this is a political position and the chief was appointed by the Governor) – though I have to say the new chief did not seem that much younger than his predecessor.

The choice of a new chief need to be celebrated, and so it was! 3 days of party with visitors from near and far – nothing less will do.

Many different tribes were present and most of the people dressed in traditional clothing and dancing non-stop for 3 days.

Mariana, her sisters and I went out to the village Sunday afternoon after mass (ok, I didn’t go but had to wait for the others to come out of church). It was the last day of celebration and less happening but we still decided to go and have a look.

The new chief had decided to do the opposite of his people and show up in a suit and with a very nice walking cane – not being too young and all. It seemed he hadn’t completely adjusted to the job and the many tasks that comes with it such as making himself available for photo sessions with curious kawaajas (that is what they call us white people), so I had to settle for a photo together with the Wau County Commissioner, a very charismatic man introducing himself as Freedom Fighter and now chosen by the people to care take their interests. How he has been chosen by the people in a country I did not ask him, since I was not there to discuss politics but rather to take some nice photos on a Sunday afternoon – and to transfer as many women and children as possible back to Wau .

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wau - community based health programme

Danish Red Cross has for several years been working with Sudan Red Crescent in the implementation of a health programme in Western Bahr El Ghazal State. Basically, the programme is focusing on reestablishing small local health clinices in the villages, so that the local population has access to basic health services and also knowledge on preventative methods such as hygiene in the family and community. Additionally, we work on rehabilitating water post, so there is access to clean water and we offer technical support for the families to prepare their own latrines.

Basic things such as access to toilets, clean drinking water and health education makes a world of difference to these small and often isolated local communities where more than every fourth child dies before turning five (and often due to easily preventable diseases such as diarrea or malaria) and where too many women without access to qualified birth attendance die during or shortly after labour.

During 2006-09 Danish Red Cross and Sudan Red Crescent have been involved in this work in 8 communities. In the beginning of 2010 we went to visit Barakol, a small town with 1500 inhabitants about 45 min. Drive outside Wau. We examined the current conditions of the non-functioning health clinic, 2 water posts in need of maintenance and a village without any access to health care beside from the 40 km long bicycle ride to Wau.

We had a brief meeting with the Chief and his people to discuss how to help and work together to improve the health conditions in his village. Thanks to help from colleagues and villagers alike the translation from English to Arabic to Jur language made it possible to reach a common understanding. The following week the work was initiated and the first steps towards a healthier life in Barakol taken together. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sudan - the political situation

Sudan is the biggest country in Africa (more than 2.5 mill km2 – or 60 times as big as Denmark!) with close to 40 million inhabitant. Since Sudan gained its independence from Great Britain in 1956 the country has been in almost constant civil war.

The civil wars (1956-72 & 1983-2005) are caused by many things. Mainly the war has been seen as a war between the Arab-Muslim North and the African-Christian South. Still, there is more to the conflict than race and religion – more precisely access to resources. Khartoum and the Arab-Islamic regime have a tendency to favor not only the Northern part of Sudan but more specifically the Arabic population in the North.

When the second civil war broke out in 1983 the then SPLM leader in the South, Dr. John Garang, introduced the idea of a New Sudan with room for everyone. The message appealed greatly to the marginalized African population in the North (both Muslim and non-Muslim) and had a great impact of the development in the civil war. The war was no longer about North and South but rather a war about rights and kinships. For this reason Darfur and other parts of Northern Sudan join in the war against the regime in Khartoum.

In 2005 SPLM in the South signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the government in the North. Finally, ending the war for the people of South Sudan. Darfur and other parts of North Sudan are still in conflict with the government in Khartoum.

As part of the CPA South Sudan achieved semi-autonomy. This has resulted in a unique set-up with one country, two governments. The President of South Sudan is also acting at the Vice-President of the entire Sudan.

According to the CPA both North and South has committed themselves to working towards a unity Sudan. For exactly this reason an election will take place this April. The election will cover the two governments as well as all 25 States – quite a challenge for the Sudanese people who have not had a democratic election in 24 years.

It has now been five years since the signing of the CPA and it has become clear to all parties that the wish to unity Sudan is next to impossible. Both sides have – indirectly – admitted that it is too late and now focus is on the South Sudan referendum scheduled for January 2011 in which the people of South Sudan will decide on whether or not to liberate themselves from the North and form an independent country. The outcome of such a referendum is rather predictable.

On the border between North and South is some of the biggest oilfields in the world. Unless some kind of agreement on the division of the valuable resources can be agreed upon, it is far from certain that the North will accept an independent South. The future of Sudan is very uncertain and for the local population is seems they still have a lot to survive before being able to enjoy a quiet and peaceful life without war and destruction.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Dear friends, family and others….

Welcome to my new blog. This time I will be sharing with you my experiences in South Sudan.

I travelled to South Sudan in October 2009 to work with Danish Red Cross as an Organisational Development Delegate. This means that I will be working directly with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS) South Secretariat in guiding capacity building efforts in order for the secretariat to offer needed support to the branch offices in South Sudan.

I will be working and living in two different towns. Firstly, I will be in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Here the South Secretariat of the Sudanese Red Crescent is based and I will be working with the staff here. Secondly, I will be working in Wau town where Danish Red Cross is supporting a SRCS programme on community-based primary health care.

With this blog I will try to share some of my experiences from daily life in South Sudan, both professionally and personally. To the extent possible I will also try to include some information about the development situation in the country and insights into local life here. For the more political aspects of this interesting country I am positive that the media will cover this plenty in the coming years, so I will try to steer clear of those issues in my blog.

Finally, I will do my best to update this blog regularly – inshallah!