An Exciting Time to Work in Southern Sudan

Sudan classroom

While southern Sudan desperately needs more schools, efforts are being made by the government, CRS and other agencies to give children the education they deserve. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Tom Purekal moved to Juba in July 2009 to serve as CRS’ program manager for peacebuilding and governance in southern Sudan. Here is his first report from the field.

I chose a critical time to work in southern Sudan. So much of what happens over the next two years will set the tone for the country’s future, which is especially relevant for my work in peacebuilding and governance.

After finishing an intense two years with CRS in India, I was looking for a challenging project that would bring me to Africa for the first time in my career. In terms of need, Sudan doesn’t disappoint.

Due to a long civil war between the north and south, almost no investments were made in southern Sudan for more than two decades—and little was invested previously. The vast region has just a few paved roads, all in the capital of Juba. The crater-ridden dirt roads throughout the rest of the region are by far the worst I’ve ever seen. Health conditions are also poor, with Sudan ranking among the world’s worst in terms of infant mortality rates and overall life expectancy rates.

This doesn’t have to be the case though. The region’s climate allows for three crops to be harvested each year, providing people with a huge opportunity for growing food if they had sufficient access to tools, short-term financing and knowledge of improved agriculture practices. Lack of rainfall this year, however, has resulted in severe food shortages across southern Sudan, particularly in Eastern Equatoria state and conflict-affected areas of Jonglei and Upper Nile states. In addition, more than one thousand people have died this year from inter-community violence fueled by idleness, cultural differences and long-standing vendettas over land, cattle rustling and child abductions.

That said, I feel hopeful about the work CRS is doing. Our water team constructed over 90 bore wells in the past two years. Food distributions are being extended to approximately 30,000 beneficiaries to help them emerge from what we hope will be a temporary food crisis. Additional food is being provided through food-for-work projects that are constructing schools, roads and health centers—and supplementary feedings are helping malnourished children and pregnant and lactating mothers. CRS is also constructing new health centers and working with other actors to bring essential primary health services to communities stricken with malaria, acute diarrhea, poor nutrition and a lack of prenatal care.

As might be expected, I find CRS’ peace work to be most compelling and a place where we can make a distinct difference. Just recently, CRS finished a series of trainings for 34 additional civil society, government and Church representatives to help them promote peace in their communities. In conditions where many citizens are resorting to violence under extreme pressures, we look to these peace promoters to help bring unity to their conflict-torn villages. We are also encouraging peace dialogues and other projects for clashing communities to use to reduce tension. CRS’ standing as a major peace player, coupled with our development projects that address basic needs, enable our peace projects to have significant impact.

This work is especially critical in light of two major milestones that will determine the future direction of Sudan. The first is elections scheduled for 2010, which will be the first time many southern Sudanese adults will vote in their lifetimes. General awareness of the elections is high, but knowledge of requisite voter registration in November remains low. CRS is addressing this through a governance project. The second milestone is the 2011 referendum, when residents of southern Sudan will vote to remain a single country with the north or become a separate country.

Given these upcoming milestones and our pending initiatives, I hope to call southern Sudan home for at least the next two years. Needs are many. But now the country has an opportunity to think beyond mere survival and embrace the promises of development for the next generation. This will require continued hope, patience, hard work and more sacrifice to address the needs of southern Sudanese and enable the region to emerge from a generation of war into a brighter future.

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3 Responses to “An Exciting Time to Work in Southern Sudan”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    Hi Tom,
    I have found this blog via a search for information on efforts to help prepare Southern Sudan for 2011. A Southern Sudanese friend of mine (Bor region) who came to the US as a refugee is looking for ways to help his homeland from this side of the world. He wants to give talks about efforts to help get refugees out of the camps and back to their farms. Could you use a spokesperson in the Chicago area?

  2. Seema Says:

    Hi Tom:

    Nice to read about your new assignment and activities of the project in southern Sudan.It sounds very intresting and challenging… Keep posting blog and update us..

    With Kind Regards


  3. Kirti Says:

    Hi Tom,

    great to read your blog. I am really glad that CRS and you are making hard efforts to bring changes in the lives of the people in Sudan.

    I was looking for CRS’s work in Darfur, Sudan and got here and I was sure that I will see your name somewhere while searching. and when i saw your blog and name i was really excited and read it all.

    keep up the good work!

    take care


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