Sudan Rebuilds Hope

(London Free Press — Viewpoint section — Saturday, February 26, 2005)

GLEN PEARSON

The deal had been signed and everywhere we looked in south Sudan the effects of the recently completed peace talks stirred our thoughts and hopes. In the midst of the usual pessimism about African renewal Sudan stood out as a blueprint for future growth and development.

Commissioner Bona Makuac of Aweil East County effectively spoke for the entire southern population. “This is now our opportunity to show the world what the southern people can do now that peace has come.”

And come it has, in ways both simple and profound. It’s evident in the eyes of four year old Achan, who has just discovered that we are planning on opening a new kindergarten class for her age group. And for elderly Galeto, a future can now be envisioned without guns, death and constant dislocation of the population.

“What we really require now is a secondary school,” he observes. Last year such an idea seemed unthinkable. As long as the war continued any type of long-term planning seemed risky at best.

Even Jane Roy and I were facing a different future than what we had previously experienced. With the coming of peace it would now be essential that we utilize our organization – Canadian Aid for South Sudan – as an agent for development in the southern regions. Aweil East and Twic County, where we undertake the majority of our work, are remote areas that won’t see the benefits of a growing infrastructure as quickly as other regions.

Galeto’s observation was a good case in point. While we have already assisted in the construction of six schools and are in the process of building two more, the need for a secondary school has become pressing. The nearest such school is over 600 kilometers away and with the thousands now returning to the Aweil East region due to the peace accords, what future will the students have if they can rise no farther than the primary grades?

The plight of women and girls in south Sudan has created great interest. In starting the YWCA in south Sudan, CASS has provided advance funding to provide these important citizens with the programming they will need to enter into productive community life and leadership.

It was with a great sense of accomplishment that we witnessed the first all-woman soccer game ever held in south Sudan. The woman of the area had purposefully postponed the game until we arrived from Canada and the importance of the event wasn’t lost on us. From all over the region people came to witness this pivotal event. On the guest list were provisional government leaders, community leaders and representatives from numerous non-governmental organizations.

The game itself was one we wished all of London could have witnessed, for it was primarily the funds donated in this region that produced this first ever event. The laughter was contagious, the soccer skills adequate, but it was what the scene itself symbolized that provided the most meaning. With the arrival of peace, coupled with Western funding and guidance, the women and children of south Sudan were at last able to find the time and opportunity to show what they could do and how well they could organize.

As the projects of CASS moved forward and the community began to develop, the high point of our visit was nevertheless the most personal. Our four year-old daughter Abuk, a Sudanese orphan and former victim of slavery, was baptized in front of her own people, near the place where her mother had been killed by a landmine. We had brought her back to her traditional home so that she could see for herself what remarkable people she came from. But for the Sudanese of the area it proved to be so much more. Abuk had become a symbol for them of how Canada was now playing a role in their community life. Canadian money had established programs in this forgotten area, and the Government of Canada had provided the funding for two new primary educational centres.

As the water was poured on her head and the people erupted into applause a new day was surely dawning for the people of south Sudan. The emotion was palpable as all gathered sensed the same emotion – hope.

For Londoners the journey is hardly over. Even harder that fighting slavery or winning the war will be the prospect of building the peace. Much remains to be done. Yet for all those naysayers who voice what they believe to be the hopelessness of Africa there is the present reality that a nation at war with itself has worked towards a peaceful resolution. The problems in Darfur, Sudan, remain a pressing concern, as will be the need to build a new society in the south. But for this moment, Africans have worked to solve their own problems and have achieved a remarkable victory. Londoners were there when it all appeared hopeless and yet they chose to persevere. That consistency now permits us all to share in the fruits of peace with the people of Sudan.

Glen Pearson is Executive Director of Canadian Aid for South Sudan.