in South Sudan 

 On 9 July The Republic of South Sudan came into existence. Its creation followed a referendum in January 2011 where the majority of southern Sudanese voted to secede from the north. The referendum was part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in January 2005, which ended 21 years of civil war during which time 2 million people died. Roughly the size of France, South Sudan is ethnically diverse with the largest ethnic groups being the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk peoples.

Tearfund works directly in South Sudan, operating in drought and flood-prone areas that suffered greatly during the civil war. They also work with seven partners across the country, undertaking a variety of humanitarian and development projects. The world’s newest state faces widespread poverty with most of the population relying on subsistence agriculture. There is very little infrastructure in terms of roads, health facilities and schools. 

To add to the pressures of HIV on the new government of South Sudan, many thousands of people have returned to the country from Sudan.  Gulliver Ishmael, Executive Director of Tearfund partner Sudan Evangelical Mission (SEM) says, The HIV issue is still new in South Sudan. Some people see it as a curse or a disease of people who live far away, in towns, or people who come from Kenya or Uganda.’ In collaboration with local churches, SEM has established teams in seven parishes in Mundri. On a weekly basis they reach out to communities enabling a basic understanding of HIV through thematic Bible studies, support groups, training manuals and awareness-raising programmes in schools. They help people living with HIV to see they are not alone and can live with their families,’ says Gulliver.

Stephen (not his real name) is one such person. Last year, he shared his HIV status with a SEM worker. Feeling unable to tell his family, he was drinking heavily, beating his wife and had lost his job. SEM gave him one-to-one support and encouraged him to tell his wife so she could get tested herself. Thankfully, the result was negative.  ‘Over the last year, we have seen a total change in Stephen. He has gone through counselling, stopped drinking and mistreating his wife, and this month he started a new job,’ says Gulliver. ‘It was encouraging to see that God is working though us.’

Although anti-retroviral treatment is now free in South Sudan, the challenge for people is finding reliable and affordable transport to the health clinics.  Often they can journey for several hours and use vital income travelling to and from clinics, only to be told that no appointments are available and they will have to return the next day. So when an SEM vehicle is going to the same location, arrangements are made to give people transport. SEM also runs an eye care programme and supports people with disabilities such as epilepsy, blindness and those who have lost limbs due to landmines.

Large numbers of people in South Sudan have missed out on their education because of years of conflict, so SEM is also addressing the problem of adult illiteracy. A report from a visiting worker in South Sudan describes one of the projects supported by Tear fund (August 2012):

Life for villagers in a rural South Sudan community has undergone a remarkable turnaround following the transforming work of a Tearfund partner. Residents of Goja, near Yei, used to struggle to feed themselves due to poor farming techniques, cared little about educating their children and were often beset by illness due to inadequate hygiene. There was little community spirit until Tearfund partner ‘Across’ began a project which awakened locals to their own potential. Across started by working with the local church and using Bible studies to inspire its congregation to build better relationships within Goja. This led to the church and community uniting to gather information about the needs of the area, which in turn led to an unprecedented 20-year action plan. Across, through the church, is helping villagers realise their dreams, providing expert advice and training where needed. The number one priority was to build a school and together Goja’s residents made the 64,000 bricks necessary to construct three classrooms which cater for 249 students. 

Lack of food has also been tackled by farmers working together. Several farming associations, made up equally of men and women, are now cultivating large amounts of land in order to sell the surplus produce and improve the status of the community. They plant maize and groundnuts and have plans to buy a grinding mill, hire a tractor and extend the amount of land currently being farmed. The community also runs a microfinance savings scheme where people can access loans to start up small businesses. Ezra Kenyi, vice-chairman of one farming association, said, ‘we struggled as individuals but now we work better together as a group.’

‘The Bible studies have made us want to do this. The training (by Across agricultural experts) helped very much.’ Transformation is evident at all levels of Goja. Most homes now have toilets and the community wash their hands, boil water and have rubbish pits. Individually people are undertaking various projects, such as raising poultry and planting fruit and vegetables. 

The community is also running various awareness initiatives on topics such as child protection, parental care, HIV/AIDS and early marriage. Sarah Pickwick, Tearfund’s South Sudan Policy Officer who has visited Goja, said, ‘Villagers told me how before Across started working with them they didn’t see the resources around that God had blessed them with. ‘Now they say they see the value of the trees, grass, soil etc and are using them to support themselves. Neighbouring communities have apparently seen the changes in Goja and have asked how they too can learn. 

Here in the UK, we can give, we can volunteer, we can pray,

“Father God, we pray that your shalom peace, which restores and heals in the midst of the turmoil in East Africa, will be outworked through your church. May the land once again produce food for the people. May the hungry and displaced be comforted in every sense. May the price of food and fuel stabilise to relieve pressure on poor families. May the compassion of your people be expressed here in the UK and in East Africa. Amen Lord Jesus. 

Our Christmas Day offering will be given to Tearfund for use in South Sudan 

(Information taken from the Tearfund website www.tearfund.org)