A New Perspective in Southern Sudan

By Debbie DeVoe

On my first trip to Southern Sudan in 2008, I visited Ikotos and the surrounding area. I had already been to Darfur, Ethiopia, Uganda and more. But it was Southern Sudan that floored me.

I don’t like admitting this, because I have such deep respect for my Sudanese colleagues, but I remember thinking over and over, “There’s nothing here.” The land was dry and rocky, with occasional scrub brushes. The distant hills offered a stark beauty, but I couldn’t understand why so many people were flooding back to the region, tentatively returning to their homes after a peace agreement signed in 2005 ended a 22-year civil war. We drove for hours on horrendously rutted roads. Every 30 minutes or so, we passed a handful of mud huts being built, and little else. Schools were large shade trees, clinics were practically non-existent, and wells were a rare sight. And yet the people kept coming.

Sudan peace

Charles, in front row at right, with the staff of CRS Sudan’s Yambio field office. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Two years later, I am in Yambio in another region of Southern Sudan. This morning we drove on a graded dirt road to a school 30 minutes outside of town. I could take notes as we drove, the road was so flat. We passed school after school. Many of the students didn’t have uniforms—and I learned would be sent home as a result—but children were clearly getting an education. The roadside jungle of trees and occasional fields of pineapple and cassava were regularly interrupted by marketplaces, government buildings, and family compounds.

I spoke with one of our staff members, Charles Marona. He told me how, when he was nine years old, he walked for two weeks with his mother and five siblings to join his father in the Congo. The front line of the civil war had come too close to their home in Yambio state. He spent seven years in a refugee camp, until the line moved and they returned home. But then Charles had to leave again almost immediately—this time to live in a camp in Uganda for eight more years—to pursue an education instead of being recruited by armed groups. Charles’ story is just one of many tales of struggle southerners have to tell.

Charles, like many of his CRS colleagues, has returned to Sudan because this is his home. Even though the south continues to have enormous development needs, life here is good. “In the Congo, the conditions were not nice,” he says softly. “Here you can eat, you can go to school, and even have access to the outside world by Internet and TV.”

Charles’ greatest desire is peace in Sudan. “No more war,” he repeats. And so does everyone else I meet.

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa, sends in this field report.

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